A second collection from Papanikolas (Small Bird, Tell Me, not reviewed) that movingly details the struggles of Greek immigrants in America and their descendants, torn between the consolations and the constrictions of the old ways. These are quiet, domestic stories of a people shaped by a past and by religious rituals so ingrained that even the young can never entirely ignore them. Papanikolas's Greeks live in small towns, where they form close-knit communities. The lives of parents and grandparents revolve around family, church, and social clubs, but the younger generation seems eager to embrace a new identity as Americans. The title piece (the collection's best) is an affecting account of one woman's struggle both to shape and retain her identity. Athena, the youngest child of Greek immigrants, has (unlike her older sisters) gone to college and married outside the community; she suffers a severe breakdown when her eldest son, Paul, a zealous Mormon, pressures her to renounce the old faith and become a full-fledged Mormon. In other notable stories, Kallie, a young woman working in a hospital during the Depression, is stunned by the prejudice she encounters and fears that she'll have no choice but to marry within the suffocating confines of the local Greek community (``Country Hospital, 1939''); the acutely observed jealousies that are provoked by success cause two sisters and their husbands, once best friends, to grow apart (``Neither Nose Nor Ass''); and the differences between the old ways of doing things, and the often shocking new, are noted as women prepare for a church celebration (``Getting Ready for the Festival''). ``If I Don't Praise My House'' deals with a widow's encounter with old grievances; in ``The People Garden,'' an old woman finds that her garden stirs vivid memories of vanished family members. Evocative portraits of a people on the cusp, and of a culture caught in its dying but still resonant last moments.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-8040-0993-7

Page Count: 261

Publisher: Swallow Press/Ohio Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996

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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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