Essential to students of Latin American and world literature.


A welcome omnibus edition of short fiction by the writer widely considered the greatest to have come out of Brazil.

The grandson of freed mixed-race slaves on his father’s side and son of a white Azorean mother, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908) was a largely self-taught writer who worked in several genres, including drama and poetry, and much of whose prodigious output is not well-known outside his native Brazil. His stories are not always accurate gauges of what scholar Michael Wood calls “his evolution from a poorly educated child of impoverished parents to Brazil’s greatest writer and pillar of the establishment,” inasmuch as his stories, most of them set in Rio de Janeiro, are more the stuff of drawing rooms than favelas. This edition, comprising all seven collections published in Machado de Assis’ lifetime and including a dozen stories that have never before been translated into English, stands as a primary firsthand literary portrait of Brazil in its age of empire and especially of a city that was on its way from being a tropical backwater to its reinvention as a grand imperial metropolis. Close readers of Latin American literature will note in many of his stories early stirrings of magical realism, especially in their evocation of a musty past of nobles and antique surroundings: “Naturally, the mirror was very old, but you could still see the gilding, eaten away by time, a couple of carved dolphins in the top corners of the frame, a few bits of mother-of-pearl, and other such artistic flourishes.” Sometimes Machado de Assis reads like a European modernist (“On that day—sometime around 2222, I imagine—the paradox will take off its wings and put on the thick coat of common truth”), at others like the contemporary of Melville and Flaubert that he was (“I succumbed to the morbid pleasure of tormenting myself, for no good reason”). In whatever regard, this collection offers plenty of evidence for why he enjoys the reputation he does, a pioneer of moods and modes that include fables, thin satires, and even gothic romances.

Essential to students of Latin American and world literature.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-87140-496-1

Page Count: 992

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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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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Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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