An evocative collection that might pull the rug from under your feet.

CATASTROPHE

AND OTHER STORIES

A new translation of Italian writer Buzzati’s (The Bear’s Famous Invasion of Sicily, 2003, etc.) mind-bending story collection, originally published in 1965.

Buzzati (1906-1972) is notorious for his often irreverent short stories, in which characters are revealed like scattered thunderstorms and plots remain unfinished or end abruptly. In Landry’s translation, the essence of Italian surrealism and futurism seeps through every word. An array of characters struggle with existential questions; in the title story, for example, a passenger on a speeding train notices that many of the people he sees through the window seem to be alarmed about something. Then the other passengers pick up on the feeling, but the narrator says: “Like myself, the others were uncertain as to whether the alarm was real or whether it was just a mad idea, a hallucination, one of those absurd thoughts that tend to force themselves upon the tired traveler.” Here, as in other stories in the collection, the character wonders what is real and what is imagined, and Buzzati often plays with this idea of narrative distortion. In “Seven Floors,” a man is taken to a hospital which sorts its patients according to their proximity to death; the closer patients are to the ground floor, the more likely it is that they will die. However, as the story progresses it begins to seem that the floor patients are sent to is based less on medical fact than on a story physicians tell them. Another tale, “The Opening of the Road,” features a character slowly disappearing in the great expanse of a seemingly endless road. This is how Buzzati asks the bigger questions: where are we heading? What is real? And does it really matter?

An evocative collection that might pull the rug from under your feet.

Pub Date: March 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-274273-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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