An uneven collection from a gifted writer.

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ELSEWHERE HOME

Tales that take readers from Scotland to Sudan.

Aboulela has earned international acclaim for her fiction. Her work has appeared in prestigious journals, and one story republished here—“The Museum”—won the Caine Prize for African writing. In novels like Minaret (2005) and The Translator (1999), the author has given voice to characters who choose to—or are forced to—navigate two worlds, and she explores themes of immigration, alienation, and assimilation in the stories collected here. A chance encounter with a former classmate on a flight from Sudan to England compels a young woman to reconsider the choices she’s made in “The Ostrich.” The heroine of “Summer Maze” is the teenager Nadia; when the girl leaves her home in London to visit Egypt with her mother, Aboulela captures the complexity of her identity in passages like this one: “In Cairo, she was a stranger, but a stranger who went unnoticed, who was not tricked into paying extra for taxi rides and souvenirs.” A Scottish convert to Islam travels to Khartoum to meet his fiancee’s family in “Something Old, Something New,” and his experience isn’t quite what he expects. “He had thought, from the books he’d read and the particular British Islam he had been exposed to, that in a Muslim country he would find elegance and reason. Instead he found melancholy, a sensuous place, life stripped to the bare bones.” Such passages of clarity and insight are all too rare in this collection, though. Aboulela seldom dips beneath the surface of the narrative, and, when she does, she doesn’t linger. Given that so many of the settings and situations are similar across these stories, a sense of sameness sets in. And some of the shorter entries feel more like writing exercises or gestures toward a story than finished works.

An uneven collection from a gifted writer.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2913-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

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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Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS

STORIES

A gathering of short stories by an ascended master of the form.

Best known for mega-bestselling horror yarns, King (Finders Keepers, 2015, etc.) has been writing short stories for a very long time, moving among genres and honing his craft. This gathering of 20 stories, about half previously published and half new, speaks to King’s considerable abilities as a writer of genre fiction who manages to expand and improve the genre as he works; certainly no one has invested ordinary reality and ordinary objects with as much creepiness as King, mostly things that move (cars, kid’s scooters, Ferris wheels). Some stories would not have been out of place in the pulp magazines of the 1940s and ’50s, with allowances for modern references (“Somewhere far off, a helicopter beats at the sky over the Gulf. The DEA looking for drug runners, the Judge supposes”). Pulpy though some stories are, the published pieces have noble pedigrees, having appeared in places such as Granta and The New Yorker. Many inhabit the same literary universe as Raymond Carver, whom King even name-checks in an extraordinarily clever tale of the multiple realities hidden in a simple Kindle device: “What else is there by Raymond Carver in the worlds of Ur? Is there one—or a dozen, or a thousand—where he quit smoking, lived to be 70, and wrote another half a dozen books?” Like Carver, King often populates his stories with blue-collar people who drink too much, worry about money, and mistrust everything and everyone: “Every time you see bright stuff, somebody turns on the rain machine. The bright stuff is never colorfast.” Best of all, lifting the curtain, King prefaces the stories with notes about how they came about (“This one had to be told, because I knew exactly what kind of language I wanted to use”). Those notes alone make this a must for aspiring writers.

Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1167-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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