These provocative tales suggest that fiction illuminates truths beyond the reach of journalism.

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BETWEEN THE ASSASSINATIONS

Adiga follows up his Man Booker Prize–winning debut (The White Tiger, 2008) with a collection of interconnected stories about the village of Kittur in southwestern India.

The title refers to the period between the assassinations of Indira Gandhi in 1984 and Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, though there isn’t much evidence of chronological progression here. The outside world seldom intrudes on Kittur, yet the tensions of caste and the conflicts of religion course through the narrative, sparking comedy and tragedy—sometimes both at once. The text is structured as a week’s walking tour of the village; italicized sections describing buildings and landmarks precede the stories of various characters. Among the protagonists are an ambitious delivery carrier, a workman who oversteps his bounds and a lower-caste schoolboy who sets off an explosion in chemistry class to avenge the mockery he has endured. One of the strongest pieces features a renowned journalist who has become disenchanted with his profession. “Even the writer of the truth should not know the truth entire,” he thinks. “Every true word, upon being written, is like the full moon, and daily it wanes, and then passes entirely into obscurity. That is the way of all things.” The often-poetic tone recalls fairy tales and folk parables, as poor people in particular come to terms with the way of all things, foremost among them that “the rich own the whole world.” Toward the end, Adiga introduces a character who could be confused with his creator, a writer praised as a young man because he has “gone into the countryside, and seen life there, unlike 90 percent of our writers.” Returning 25 years later, he falls in love with a much younger woman and realizes how much of an outsider he is: “he had become the stock figure whom he had worked into several of his stories—the lecherous old Brahmin, preying on an innocent girl of a lower caste.”

These provocative tales suggest that fiction illuminates truths beyond the reach of journalism.

Pub Date: June 9, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4391-5292-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2009

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

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EXHALATION

Exploring humankind's place in the universe and the nature of humanity, many of the stories in this stellar collection focus on how technological advances can impact humanity’s evolutionary journey.

Chiang's (Stories of Your Life and Others, 2002) second collection begins with an instant classic, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” which won Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette in 2008. A time-travel fantasy set largely in ancient Baghdad, the story follows fabric merchant Fuwaad ibn Abbas after he meets an alchemist who has crafted what is essentially a time portal. After hearing life-changing stories about others who have used the portal, he decides to go back in time to try to right a terrible wrong—and realizes, too late, that nothing can erase the past. Other standout selections include “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a story about a software tester who, over the course of a decade, struggles to keep a sentient digital entity alive; “The Great Silence,” which brilliantly questions the theory that humankind is the only intelligent race in the universe; and “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny,” which chronicles the consequences of machines raising human children. But arguably the most profound story is "Exhalation" (which won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Short Story), a heart-rending message and warning from a scientist of a highly advanced, but now extinct, race of mechanical beings from another universe. Although the being theorizes that all life will die when the universes reach “equilibrium,” its parting advice will resonate with everyone: “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.”

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.

Pub Date: May 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-94788-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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