A first English translation of short fiction by the great Estonian author (The Czar's Madman, 1993; Professor Martens' Departure, 1994), who begins to look more and more like a prime Nobel Prize contender. These six long pieces, all written between 1979 and 1986, record the ordeals of Kross's countrymen from the onset of WW II through its immediate aftermath, first under German, then Soviet occupation. The stories are about the dynamics of political commitment and the mechanics of personal survival, as explored by their common protagonist Peeter Mirk (manifestly his creator's alter ego), a sophisticated young law student and leftist intellectual who has—in his own words—``tried his hand at various things: writing poetry, bragging, searching for the truth, conspiracy, and . . . lecturing.'' Complex and densely woven, these are tales that take in a broad range of experiences, relationships, and exchanges of opinions; people's whole lives are skillfully telescoped and analyzed in relation to the specific actions in which they're involved. ``The Wound'' and ``Lead Piping'' describe variously abortive efforts to leave Russia-dominated Estonia and emigrate to Germany (at Hitler's invitation), vividly denoting their characters' complicated political allegiances. ``The Stahl Grammar'' and the troubling title story, both set in prisons, unforgettably show how the power politics of such sealed microcosms exactly mirror the larger conflicts of the world outside. ``The Conspiracy'' in particular reveals the ease with which people who think they're neutral slip into accommodation with injustice and evil. And the wonderful tale ``The Day His Eyes Are Opened'' confronts Mirk with the chastening spectacle of a survivor of the forced-labor camps whose political courage shows up the shallowness of Mirk's own ``suffering.'' An informative introduction by Kross's (exemplary) translator offers a solidly detailed context for this invaluable opportunity to sample further the works of one of Europe's greatest living writers.

Pub Date: July 18, 1996

ISBN: 1-86046-005-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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