An extremely clever and often graceful collection that rewards the curious reader but should not be approached with the...




A new collection by Schoemperlen (At a Loss for Words, 2008, etc.) offers stories that revel in unconventional forms and odd details, each one mining texts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries in an exploration of collage and fragmentation.

Only one piece in this strangely appealing collection, “By the Book Or: Alessandro in the New World,” engages with the traditional expectations of narrative. Alessandro, an ambitious young man of 25, journeys to the New World in search of a new life. He follows the guidance of a book that belonged to his great-great-great-grandfather, an annotated volume of vocabulary lists, sample letters and suggested dialogues called the Grammatica Accelerata. Fragments of this text appear throughout Alessandro’s story and seem to bend his new reality ever closer to a perfect fit for its recommended phrases. These fragments exist beyond the confines of the story, excerpted faithfully from an Italian-English handbook published for immigrants circa 1900. Schoemperlen builds her own story around the old words, focusing attention on how texts might shape life and our perception of it. This exploration continues in pieces that are less and less like traditional stories. “A Body Like a Little Nut” rearranges phrases from a botany textbook in alphabetical order, creating a sequence of images and sounds that works almost musically to encourage imaginative association. “Around the World in 100 Postcards” lists facts from a 1946 Canadian textbook on geography and reads like missives from a world made foreign by its existence in the past. While the stories are not all equally engaging and sometimes veer into confusing opacity, they provoke energetic consumption, urging the reader to make unusual connections with the personal baggage of their own imaginations. Collages, also created by Schoemperlen, illustrate each story.

An extremely clever and often graceful collection that rewards the curious reader but should not be approached with the expectation of traditional story.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-927428-81-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Aug. 27, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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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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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.


Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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