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by Joan Silber

Pub Date: June 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-393-05909-0
Publisher: Norton

The size of the world turns out to be astonishingly large but also intimately connected, as this novel moves us dexterously across several generations, from Thailand to Vietnam, to Mexico and the United States.

Silber (Ideas of Heaven, 2004, etc.) delicately entwines multiple narrative threads. She does so using the Faulkneresque technique of putting some characters on center stage for a time, then moving them to the side to give others the opportunity to tell their stories. There is no central unifying principle or guiding authorial consciousness. Rather, the antiphonal voices offer multiple perspectives. Many of the tensions inherent in the novel involve cross-cultural encounters. Toby, for example, is an engineer sent to Vietnam in the 1960s to figure out why planes on bombing runs are going drastically off course. After weeks of feverish activity with a brilliant colleague, they discover the mundane cause—defective screws in the gimbal of the gyroscopes. (In a deft move late in the novel, Silber introduces us to Owen, the character who sold these screws in the first place and is horrified by this discovery.) Toby marries a Thai nurse, Toon, who winds up on the periphery of another character’s narrative. One story is narrated from the perspective of Corinna, Owen’s sister, who develops a crush on Zain, a married Muslim. Silber gives one narrative to Kit, Toby’s former girlfriend, to whom in loneliness he writes when he’s in Vietnam. Annunziata narrates the story of her journey from Sicily to Brooklyn, and we find out that she’s the mother of Viana, whose first husband’s grandfather is Zain.

Silber guides the reader expertly through the narrative maze, elegantly exploring the subtleties of human interaction.