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


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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2009

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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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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.


One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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