Unrelenting and sometimes heavy-handed, at their best Seghers’ stories are also moving and deeply intelligent.



A collection of stories spanning Seghers’ accomplished career.

Seghers, a German Jewish writer, left the country in time to avoid the worst of Hitler’s excesses, but in her many novels and short stories, she dedicated herself to a stringent and ongoing analysis of fascism: its victims, its resisters, and, occasionally, its admirers. Most of the stories included in this collection are concerned with the war. In “A Man Becomes a Nazi,” Seghers traces the life of a man who did indeed become a Nazi; she may have meant the story as an attempt to at least understand, if not sympathize with, at least one individual from a mass of many, but the result is somewhat flat-footed. When her character starts attending political meetings, he “learned that the cause of all his problems was the Versailles Treaty created by the Jews and the Free Masons in order to enslave him.” Seghers probably meant to humanize him, but her character turns out, instead, a caricature. She was by no means a subtle writer. Seghers was concerned with major questions, and she pursued those questions in her fiction relentlessly. What does fascism do to a person’s soul? she asks again and again. In the title story, one of Seghers’ best known, a woman imagines herself with her old schoolmates on a class trip to the Rhine. As “Netty” (Seghers’ own nickname) scans the scene, she intersperses her descriptions of the children in the years before World War I with the lives they grew up to endure. “Marianne and Leni, of whom one would later suffer the loss of her child because of the other,” she writes, “were walking out of the little seesaw garden, their arms thrown about each other’s necks.” It’s a poignant and affecting story, even if Seghers underscores her point several times over. The collection also includes stories from early in Seghers’ career as well as tales based on myths rather than war (“Tales of Artemis,” for one), but the main thrust of Seghers’ obsession remains clear, and some stories are more successful than others.

Unrelenting and sometimes heavy-handed, at their best Seghers’ stories are also moving and deeply intelligent.

Pub Date: May 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-68137-535-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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