THE QUILT

AND OTHER STORIES

Writing in Urdu, Chughtai (19151991) paved the way for modern Indian and Pakistani women writers to harshly probe their social milieu's double standards for men and women, rich and poor. Each of these 15 stories concerns marriage in one way or another, and most begin or end with a wedding. But don't expect happy romances; these are arranged, often brutal unions. The woman in ``The Quilt'' is so lonely in her husband's house that she takes a female servant as her lover; the beautiful young bride in ``The Veil,'' forbidden by Hindu tradition to remove her own veil, is thus forced to disobey her husband. While wedding guests heap praise on each bride's beauty, it is assumed that pregnancy will soon make them fat and ungainly. In ``The Eternal Vine,'' intense suspicion is aroused when the wife keeps her looks and indeed even looks younger as her husband ages. Even in this rigid society, a few young women manage to elope, usually with men of a different religion. Indeed, Chughtai's stories offer insightful glances into the conflicts faced when Muslims, Hindus, and Christians live side by side. As the book progresses, its focus shifts from the upper echelons to the servant class. Here, wives cannot be sent off; there's no money to pay for another bride, and it ``doesn't make a wit of difference, whether or not a servant maid enters wedlock.'' A maze of first, second, and third marriages—with unions between cousins, aunts, and uncles permitted—confuses reader and narrator alike: ``By some odd coincidence I was my mother's distant cousin as well, and by that token my father was also my brother-in-law,'' the youthful narrator of ``Aunt Bichu'' explains, pesenting one of the book's simpler equations. While the basic plots of these stories are engrossing, the characters aren't sufficiently individualized, possibly due to imperfections in the translation.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 1994

ISBN: 1-878818-34-1

Page Count: 140

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1994

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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

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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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EXHALATION

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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