These stories are specifically about crime and the law, but they more generally encompass the human condition.

READ REVIEW

GUILT

STORIES

The second volume of unusual case histories by a German defense attorney with a literary flair.

As a follow-up to Crime (2011), this very similar collection can’t offer the revelatory impact of its predecessor, nor the consistency (the reader suspects that the best stories were used in the earlier book). Yet its combination of legal experience and literary command will continue to find favor with those who appreciated the debut. These are compressed, matter-of-fact accounts which the author maintains are based on criminal cases in which he was involved, but often read like existential parables that probe the limits of the law in exploring the mysteries of the human heart and psyche. The opening “Funfair” details an inexplicable gang rape by “perfectly normal men” of a young victim who had consciously done nothing to turn these men into animals. “Later nobody could explain anything,” says the author, who was then a young lawyer, and for whom the case would provide a rite of passage, an initiation, when it became obvious that the law could do nothing, that “legal proceedings would end here and that guilt was another matter entirely” and that “we knew we'd lost our innocence and that this was irrelevant.” Though the narratives are often as terse as the best hard-boiled crime fiction, the most compelling tales have a philosophical dimension reminiscent of Kafka or Camus. In “The Other Man,” a narrative of random sex and its complications, the author writes of a woman who had never anticipated the consequences of desire. Other stories are slighter, with O. Henry twists, but they are also relatively short.

These stories are specifically about crime and the law, but they more generally encompass the human condition.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-59949-0

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

FLIGHTS

Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more