This Whiting Award-winning author has a very bright future.




Set mostly in Hong Kong, seven stories portray dislocated lives: an impressive debut from an admirably protean storyteller.

White American, black American, Hong Kong native, mainland refugee: Row’s viewpoint characters are a mixed bunch, but all are effortlessly convincing. Hong Kong, with its colonial past and uncertain present, is an apt metaphor for dislocation. The reasons for these deracinated lives may be personal (Alice, a high-school student in “The Secrets of Bats,” is disoriented after her mother’s suicide) or personal and geographic: Lewis and Melinda, an American couple, are having unexpected career problems (“For You”) in what would be just another marriage-on-the rocks story without the twist of Lewis’s seeking help through Zen in a Buddhist monastery. Zen reappears in “Revolutions,” where Ana, a Polish convert, offers solace to Curtis, a physically and spiritually damaged American painter, through the zigzags are not always clear—possibly stories are the wrong vehicle for Zen’s slippery riddles. Row burrows more successfully into the vagaries of relationships in his title story: Harvey, a fifth-generation Hong Kong resident, woos but fails to win a fiercely proud mainland girl. The standout, though, is Row’s most audacious story, “American Girl.” Chen is blind, an aging masseur in Kowloon. He was a child during the Cultural Revolution, when the Red Guards raped his mother, killed his father, and blinded him, but now a relentless American anthropologist, Jill Marcus, who studies trauma survivors, forces him to relive the past. “Ghost woman,” Chen calls her, the word for foreigner and ghost being the same in Chinese. But the put-down doesn’t bother Wallace, the worldly African-American lawyer in “The Ferry,” a taut tale of race and office politics. The seventh story, “Heaven Lake,” is remarkable for its account of a New York mugging that builds in tension as the mugger turns victim. Row handles gritty suspense quite as well as he does the problems of lovers.

This Whiting Award-winning author has a very bright future.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-385-33789-2

Page Count: 190

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2004

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


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

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet