Superlative stories from an accomplished stylist who looks as if he may well have a great novel in him.

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  • National Book Award Finalist

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The pangs of individuals and cultures subject to established inequality and radical change are expertly analyzed in Pakistani author Mueenuddin’s impressive debut collection.

The eight stories explore relationships among scions of the super-rich Harouni farming family, living near Lahore—those who serve it and those who marry (often unhappily) into it. The stories are Chekhovian in their grasp of indigenous detail and subtle understanding of their characters’ complex experiences and destinies. In “Nawabdin Electrician” (one of two stories that previously appeared in the New Yorker), a resourceful Mr. Fixit, who’s also the overburdened father of several marriageable daughters, patches together a living from his genius for mechanical improvisation, suffers grievous losses when he’s robbed and beaten, yet, through sheer force of will, perseveres. Echoes of Irish storyteller Frank O’Connor’s keen eye for quotidian minutiae and Doris Lessing’s fatalistic irony are sounded in the title story’s understated portrayal of an indigent woman who “rises” to security as mistress to the elderly Harouni patriarch, but, upon his death, loses all she has gained; the tale of a judge’s servant whose family turns an act of horrific abuse to its profit (“About a Burning Girl”); and a harrowing story (“A Spoiled Man”) about an aging workman whose painstakingly earned chance at happiness is ruined by a do-gooder’s misunderstanding of the traditions that fix him irrevocably in his place. Even better are the longer stories: In “Lily,” the chronicle of a vain party girl’s ingenuous hope of reclaiming respectability, as the wife of an industrious wealthy farmer’s son, is dashed as their utter incompatibility uncoils and shows itself; and the magnificent “Provide, Provide,” wherein the ambitious Zainab insinuates herself among the Harounis, abandoning her weakling husband to marry a well-placed household servant, only to lose everything when the force of family obligation shoulders aside all her scheming.

Superlative stories from an accomplished stylist who looks as if he may well have a great novel in him.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06800-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2008

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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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