Strange and memorable. Students of modern literature should greet this as if discovering hidden treasure.



A trove of centrifugal stories by long-forgotten Soviet writer Grin.

Grin, ne Grinevsky, was born in a town in north-central Russia where exiles were dispatched in the czarist era; his father was a Polish-born detainee. As soon as he could, he made for Odessa, worked in the port and at sea, and joined the Social Revolutionary Party. Sent out on a mission of assassination, Grin had second thoughts, a matter at the heart of the first story here, “Quarantine,” written in 1907. Claustrophobic and full of the anxiety that “was like someone else’s bothersome cargo, which could not be unloaded until it had been dragged to a certain point,” it resolves in uncertainty: The narrator will not kill anyone that day, but what he’ll do the next is an open question. Other stories are specimens from what Soviet critics called “Grinlandia,” an exotic South Seas–like location where people call guests “Señor”—and some of those inhabitants are in fact exiled convicts, such as the founder of the titular “Lanphier Colony,” who “issued phrase after phrase, [which], correctly divided by invisible punctuation marks, evaporated into the air, like clouds of smoke released methodically by an inveterate smoker.” Some of Grin’s fantasies must have seemed unbearable to contemporary readers, like his imagining of a vast banquet, discovered by the protagonist of the story “The Rat-Catcher,” consisting of cheeses, cakes, eggs, and “hams, sausages, cured tongues, and minced turkey,” all from a story written in 1924, a time of deprivation after civil war. Other of the stories are surpassingly strange, then and now, set in imaginary places “well clear of any shipping lanes,” that are redolent of Poe and Verne and whose happenings sometimes reach into the distant future, as in the title story: “I saw those same magic-eyed travelers, the kind this very city will see in the year 2021, when our progeny…will alight the cabin of his electric automobile onto the surface of an aluminum aerial causeway."

Strange and memorable. Students of modern literature should greet this as if discovering hidden treasure.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-231-18977-4

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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