While the stories in this collection can be hit or miss, those that succeed are well-imagined and richly textured.



Myka’s fiction debut is a collection of short stories set in Romania about the complications that arise—in suburban homes and in brothels, among families, friends, and lovers—when Romanian and Western cultures collide.

These stories focus on their characters' isolation as they struggle to find a place in an unfamiliar world. Although related, not all the stories are created equal. “Lessons in Romanian” and “Manna from Heaven” look at American women working in Romania and, in both the protagonists' alienation from and uncertainty about their environment, emphasize an estrangement from American culture as well. But while “Manna” uses food—more specifically live meat—as an engaging way to explore its subject, “Lessons” is a more cursory treatment, without intricacy or substance. Similarly, when the first story in the collection introduces us to Dragos, a boy living in a Romanian orphanage, it makes obvious connections that take expected, tiresome routes. Later, however, in “Song of Sleep,” we meet Dragos as an adult recently married to an American woman. What follows is a complicated, emotionally nuanced view of their relationship that manages to ring true to human experience while feeling as though it could take place only on a small farm in the remote Romanian countryside. The longest tale in the collection, “Song of Sleep” is perhaps also the strongest; we want Dragos' marriage to succeed, but the struggles it faces will not be denied, and the bleak realities of life on the farm only emphasize this. The most consistently compelling stories are those centered on Irina, following her from a 13-year-old surviving on the streets (“Rol Dobos”) to a young woman working in a brothel (“Palace Girls”). Her struggle to find agency in a world that thrives on the powerless is underscored by a forceful determination that leaves the reader both impressed and slightly afraid for her.

While the stories in this collection can be hit or miss, those that succeed are well-imagined and richly textured.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-886157-99-6

Page Count: 215

Publisher: BkMk/Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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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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