Crude and pointless—unless crudity is the point.


Little fables of degradation from one of Indonesia’s most famous authors.

Kurniawan earned international acclaim for his epic exploration of his country’s history and folklore, Beauty Is a Wound (2015). This was the author’s first work to be published in English, and translations of his novels that have appeared since then have been increasingly disappointing. The short fictions collected in this volume continue that unfortunate trend. Kurniawan has never been afraid to shy away from the grotesque and the squalid, but, with stories like “Graffiti in the Toilet” and “Don’t Piss Here,” he seems to be daring readers to look away. More importantly, these very brief tales seem to be gross for the sake of being gross. The violence and filth and sexual transgression in Beauty Is a Wound served a larger purpose in depicting a country with a complicated, troubled past and contemporary political and economic challenges. To the extent that there is a hint of substantive content, it’s difficult to discern how much of it will be of interest only to an Indonesian audience. For example, the story “Rotten Stench” describes—in one seven-page sentence—a massacre in the fictional city of Halimunda that echoes a similar atrocity that occurred 18 years earlier. It’s sickening, certainly, and the structural choice Kurniawan makes propels us forward even when we might want to stop, and one might make the argument that the author’s decision to provide almost no context for these scenes of chickens picking at the genitals of corpses (the word “genitals” appears a lot in these stories) and “flesh and blood that had congealed into porridge” suggests a certain nauseating universality, but…how many readers will understand the barely enumerated distinctions between these two massacres, and how many need a graphic lesson in why mass murder is, generally speaking, bad?

Crude and pointless—unless crudity is the point.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-78663-715-4

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.


An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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


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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