Three entertaining sketches, though mostly of interest to fans of The Leopard.



Three parablelike pieces of short fiction from Lampedusa (1896-1957), best known for The Leopard (1958), his sweeping novel about Sicilian aristocracy.

This trio of stories doesn’t provide a large enough sample size to determine if Lampedusa could have been a great short-form writer, but each is marked by an ironic wit and the intimate knowledge of Italian class distinctions that infuses The Leopard. “The Professor and the Siren” is narrated by a young journalist who allows himself to be routinely browbeaten for his ignorance by an aging scholar of ancient Greece. Set during the rise of fascism in Italy, the tale is an allegory about the perils of forgetting the past, but Lampedusa gives that message a lively and subtle cast, turning on the scholar’s alleged encounter with a mermaid. “Joy and the Law” is a brief comic story about a man whose Christmas bonus includes a large cake that proves to be a burdensome reminder of his obligations to others, and it’s as light as its “easy come, easy go” message. The closing, “The Blind Kittens,” is made of much more ambitious stuff and was written as the first chapter of a follow-up to The Leopard. Centered on the Ibba family, whose rapacious land grabs have made it one of the most powerful forces in Sicily, the story follows a group of men gossiping. As they exchange “envies, grudges, fears,” they also share rumors about the clan, and in their chatter lays a hint of a widescreen epic that would capture the family’s rise to power. But it has punch as a stand-alone story about jealousy, with a glint of humor: “[E]ach of them wished for Ibba’s millions so that others would invent similarly sumptuous lies about him,” Lampedusa writes.

Three entertaining sketches, though mostly of interest to fans of The Leopard.

Pub Date: July 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59017-719-8

Page Count: 96

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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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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