A promising, if a bit repetitive debut. These tales are often horrific in outline, but Osondu's warm, humane, bemused tone...



Osondu’s first collection is a grim but compassionate look at desperate Nigerians both at home and abroad.

The voice of America is, for Osondu’s Africans, a siren-ish come-hither, but the promise is almost always either illusory or cruelly reneged upon. Not that that will come as a surprise to the native Nigerians here—Osondu’s Nigeria is overflowing with tricksters and frauds, some formed by cruel necessity, others by choice. Husbands are ruthlessly faithless; government corrupt; superstitions and family customs strictly enforced; and the world is plain ruthless. Still, over the course of these 18 stories, Osondu convinces us not only of the perils and hazards but also of the pathos of these people’s plights, and of the resiliency that makes them reinvent themselves again and again. In “Waiting,” starving refugee children in surplus shirts (“Tell Me I’m Sexy”; “Got Milk?”) vie to be adopted, a state much coveted and much mythologized. “Bar Beach Show” depicts a father taking his sons to a public execution of armed robbers, and we see the father grasping that the glamour of the occasion will have unintended—and fatal—consequences for his family. In “A Simple Case,” the beau of a prostitute is hauled in during a routine sweep, but things turn dire when an officer comes to the police substation and demands that all petty-crime detainees be hauled off to prison. An armed robbery of a high official has occurred nearby, and the appearance of quick and emphatic justice must be kept up; these suspects will do just fine. The young man is forced to negotiate for his life by charming his captors, and by the time he manages to extricate himself—a rare, happy result—his girlfriend has seized her chance and lit out for Italy.

A promising, if a bit repetitive debut. These tales are often horrific in outline, but Osondu's warm, humane, bemused tone deepens rather than undermines their impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-199086-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

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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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