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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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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A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

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Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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