Short Story Cycles

Two Worlds in One Book: “Ways of Sunlight” and the Migrant Short Story Cycle

This chapter argues that Sam Selvon’s short story sequence “Ways of Sunlight” (1957) pioneered a specific technique of constructing coherence between different narratives. While its first nine stories are grouped together under the title of “Trinidad,” the remaining ten appear in a section named “London.” Although the London stories ultimately bridge that separation by depicting West Indian immigrants in the British capital and by offering a decidedly West Indian outlook on the city, the sudden move from the Caribbean to England in the middle of the book is an essential aspect of the reading experience. The peculiar arrangement of “Ways of Sunlight” is designed to encourage readers to bring the individual stories from both parts of the book into a dialogue with one another. Rather than making the author’s country of origin and his current place of residence the “before” and “after” of a teleological story of migration, the collection conveys a sense of their synchronicity, their coexistence “here” and “there.” In this way, “Trinidad” and “London” gradually emerge in the reading process as two distinct but nonetheless connected life-worlds. As the present chapter argues, this technique can be considered the key feature of a particular subset of short story cycles, in which the meeting of two “worlds” in one book reflects a history of migration and conveys a sense of double belonging. After a short survey of previous research into postcolonial short story writing, the chapter introduces the concept of the “organizing principle” to elucidate the spatial organization of migrant short story cycles, which tend to shift from – or alternate between – stories set in Britain and stories set in various places in (or near) the author’s respective country of origin. Like “Ways of Sunlight,” later short story cycles such as Salman Rushdie’s “East, West” (1994) and Pauline Melville’s “Shape-shifter” (1990) oppose and connect the social and cultural space of Britain with that of their characters’ countries of origin. Both “worlds” are covered within one and the same book, but they do not become part of one and the same continuous or overarching narrative. Instead, the cycles move from one setting to the other without reaching any final destination or end-point. This can be interpreted in terms of “inbetweenness,” as the literary reflection of a state of homelessness, of belonging fully neither to the one place nor the other; however, it can also be read more optimistically as displaying a sense of being part of both com 

chapter source: Frank, M. C. (2018). Two Worlds in One Book: “Ways of Sunlight” and the Migrant Short Story Cycle. Constructing Coherence in the British Short Story Cycle, Eds. Patrick Gill and Florian Kläger (New York and London: Routledge, 2018), 127-141.


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