Quirky plot points save this quiet collection from feeling clichéd, though it’s neither quite fantastical nor believable...




Offbeat immigrant stories centered around the Portuguese community in the San Francisco area.

This collection from Vaz (Fado & Other Stories, 1997, etc.) revolves largely around generational differences and cultural assimilation. In the title story, a financially strapped woman fabricates a story about seeing the Virgin Mary in her artichoke grove, much to the chagrin of her niece, who is struggling to fit in at her California school. The aunt is correct—people do flock to their house to see the spiritual miracle, but it doesn’t provide the windfall that she had hoped for. Meanwhile, in “All Riptides Roar with Sand from Opposing Shores,” a schoolgirl begins writing to a Portuguese religious icon seeking advice, and despite the fact that she never receives a response, improbably keeps up the correspondence for more than 40 years, chronicling her life in the United States. The heroine in “Taking a Stitch in a Dead Man’s Arm” distracts herself from her father’s grave illness by silently helping a star athlete finish his homework every day on the bus. In “The Mandarin Question,” a young woman confronts her issues with men after a very unusual childhood—she was raised by her aunt after her father shot her mother on the day she was born. And in “Lisbon Story,” a father dispatches his daughter to his hometown of Lisbon as he lies dying of cancer in America, ostensibly to quickly sell off a piece of property, but actually to distract her and keep her pulled into a world that once was his own.

Quirky plot points save this quiet collection from feeling clichéd, though it’s neither quite fantastical nor believable enough to fully satisfy.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8032-1790-4

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Bison/Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2008

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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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