By the Dutch author of Nightfather (1994) and The Shovel and the Loom (1996), three long stories that explore the Jewish experience and the legacy of the Holocaust. The central and longest tale, “Holy Fire,” draws an extended contrast between the directions followed by two of its characters. One is the story’s narrator, a Dutch woman journalist whose independent life estranges her from her father, an inflexible Orthodox Jew. The other is Hans Levie, the son of the narrator’s close friends, whose fanatical pro-Zionism drives him to terrorize his bewildered parents, harass their friends and neighbors, and emigrate to Jerusalem, where he murders a Palestinian youth. Though the story is attenuated and discursive, Friedman portrays its several characters’ argumentative dispositions quite credibly, and movingly renders its narrator’s stubborn determination “to fulfill the holiest of all Jewish commandments, the commandment to keep on learning.” The concluding piece (“Bette”) describes with skillfully restrained emotion the ordeal of a grown daughter watching the slow death from cancer of her beloved mother, a literate and sentient woman who had survived a concentration camp and the death of her permanently traumatized husband. It’s a beautiful portrayal of the daughter’s sorrow and confusion juxtaposed with her mother’s funny, querulous, and withal loving embrace of the withered world she cannot bring herself to renounce—reminiscent, in its incantatory, grieving rhythms (“Let her be as bitter as gall, let her rattle her chains, let her wrestle with the Angel—), of Tillie Olsen’s “Tell Me a Riddle.” Even finer is the parable-like title story, which recounts the last days of Gershom Katz, a centenarian widower who is exploited by the family who shelter him but then is purified when his affection for a donkey (as mistreated as he) leads to a hallucination that is simultaneously erotic grasp, exaltation, and annunciation. The result is a marvelous amalgam of realism, folktale, and fantasy. Superlative work from one of the best newer writers on the international scene.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 1998

ISBN: 0-89255-232-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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

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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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