Essential, deeply satisfying fiction from one of the least known of the 20th-century’s greatest writers.


An important collection of 17 stories and (brief) novellas, all written between 1916 and 1940 by the Austrian writer whose superb novels (including The Silent Prophet and The Radetzky March) rank among the finest rediscovered fiction of recent decades.

Roth (1894–1939), a Jew born in Galicia, spent much of his brief life in exile, from the rise of Nazism and from his own ironist’s awareness of rigidly ordered old “worlds” collapsing (such as that of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy). Accordingly, his stories concentrate on ambitions unfulfilled and loyalties betrayed, as in the limpid “Barbara”(about a loving woman who means nothing to the men in her life, including the son for whom she sacrifices herself), and “April” (which might have been written by a clinically depressed Turgenev), about a young man on the make who quite casually moves on after his dalliance with a girl who’s too fragile to live. Roth’s genius for brisk characterizations and urgent empathetic voice effortlessly solicit our identification with such wounded and searching characters as the elderly nobleman (of “The Bust of the Emperor”) who continues to perform dutiful acts of charity even after a ruthlessly efficient (Polish) “republic” renders his commitment to noblesse oblige obsolete, and the eponymous protagonist of the Flaubertian “Stationmaster Fallmerayer,” whose romantic obsession with a Russian countess injured in a train wreck slowly, surely detaches him from all his responsibilities and relationships: it’s a compact tragedy of passion concentrated into a harsh, unforgettable 20 pages. Best of all is Roth’s last completed novella “The Leviathan,” about a coral merchant engrossed in a sustaining fantasy suggested by the curious exotic life forms that provide his livelihood, and eventually tempt him to ruin. It all turns on a masterly metaphor for the fragility of a life “that had not been linked to that of any other human being in this world.”

Essential, deeply satisfying fiction from one of the least known of the 20th-century’s greatest writers.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-393-04320-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2001

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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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