A first collection from Scott (Arrogance, 1990, etc.) explores, in luminous prose, the obdurate nature of obsession in real and imaginary characters. Each story here is a mini-case history of a famous or imaginary character conjured up to illustrate the way a particular passion becomes an obsession—an obsession that ultimately consumes the individual's life. Pieces like ``Concerning Mold upon the Skin,'' ``Nowhere,'' ``The Marvelous Sauce,'' and ``Dorothea Dix: Samaritan,'' respectively, offer insight into Dutch lens-grinder Anthony von Leeuwenhoek, who assaulted his daughter to get the tear that under his microscope would reveal a whole new universe and forever change the ``nature of belief''; a Scottish anatomist who, wanting to dissect a human heart to find where the ``body lies with disease, its demon lover,'' secretly buys cadavers from William Burke, who would be hanged in Edinburgh in 1829 for the murder of an innocent traveler; Charlotte Corday, who assassinated Marat in order to rescue France from his revolutionary zeal, and is here mourned by her cousin; and the now-dying Dorothy Dix, who, having dedicated her life to helping the criminally insane, recalls a seminal encounter with two imprisoned madwomen, and realizes that she, like them, would have been driven insane by life's injustices were it not for her grandfather, ``who taught me about the satisfaction of work.'' Three other stories limn the obsessive but unexpressed love of an Indian psychologist for his American patient (``A Borderline Case''); a blind beekeeper who breaks his sacred pact with the insects (``Bees, Bees''); and the harsh life of a rural midwife addicted to chloroform (``Chloroform Joys''). Sensitively nuanced insights into the more macabre manifestations of human behavior, by a writer of admirable originality.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8050-2647-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1993

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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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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.


Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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