A diminutive book that speaks volumes about “the ghostly existence of émigrés,” one that haunts the reader’s imagination.




The legacy of world war and the experience of exile provide a rich texture of loss and longing in nine stories from a prominent Argentinean-born filmmaker and author.

Cozarinsky’s second collection (after Urban Voodoo, 1990) is bracketed by two masterpieces, beginning with the unusual title story, about a young Jew, in 1890, preparing to embark for Buenos Aires to await his reluctant bride-to-be’s later arrival—only to be accompanied instead by the non-Jewish woman who impulsively begs to become his “wife.” In the haunting final story, “Émigré Hotel,” a Jewish protagonist travels from Argentina to Lisbon, obsessed by the story of his grandparents having fallen in love there in 1940—only to learn more than he wishes to know about his family’s angry, tangled history. The plot similarity that links these two pieces comes as a dazzling, moving surprise as deracinated characters also figure in the poignant “Christmas ’54,” about a Viennese writer in South America who relieves his loneliness by hiring “aimless, hungry-looking young men” for sex; and also in the portrayal of a Berlin pianist who can’t live either in his native or his adopted culture (“Days of 1937”); and in “Budapest,” about an itinerant art forger whose memories of his mother’s Romanian youth and adulthood dissuade him from fleecing an elderly “victim” of the Nazis’ appropriation of Europe’s artistic treasures. And yet even stronger is the masterly “Literature,” whose narrator pays belated homage to the Russian émigré woman who’d introduced him to her country’s great writers while grieving for her brother, perished at Dachau. This deceptively simple Chekhovian story resonates thunderously, most notably in one of contemporary fiction’s indelibly memorable images: “. . . although there were no trees in the camp, the ground was strewn with yellow leaves.” The “leaves” are, of course, the cloth stars worn by Jewish prisoners.

A diminutive book that speaks volumes about “the ghostly existence of émigrés,” one that haunts the reader’s imagination.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-374-11673-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet