An impressive collection about relationships in a turbulent Iran that offers powerful insights.

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TALES OF LOVE AND DESPAIR

MEN IN LOVE IN REVOLUTIONARY IRAN

Based on her interviews with men who lived through the Iranian Revolution, the author delivers eight short stories that examine the human condition.

Moving freely between past and present, these narratives pit the romantic idealism of youth against the sobering reality of growing up, growing old, and growing apart. In “The Paris of the Middle East,” Nader Moradi and Mahta are young visionaries whose attempt to emulate the bohemian lifestyle of the European luminaries they so admire is thwarted by societal pressures to conform. Five years later, she lies in a hospital bed as he berates her for birthing a child he never wanted. Similarly, “Where Are We? We Are Here.” presents an unhappy marriage between Ali and Mariam, former political prisoners whose union was predicated on love notes and imagined similarities: “They had exchanged only momentary glances....Only short letters written in ink. And ink has its own enemies—air, water, time. It has an evaporating quality, just like love.” In “Errand Boy,” Hamid falls for Raha, a wealthy girl who frequents the yarn shop where he works, pursues her a bit too earnestly, and must settle for an arranged marriage after her family sends her away to escape his advances. These men are casualties of the times they live in, denied happiness for the sake of survival. So, too, is Iran itself. These engrossing tales with strongly drawn characters are also about a country halted in its tracks, an era of budding equality and freedom in the 1970s that gave way to years of shortages, rampant incarceration, paranoia, and morality police during the revolution. Even afterward, there are ex-soldiers broken by war, families torn apart by emigration, and residents challenged by a lingering sense of loyalty to the country that betrayed them. As Kousha (Voices from Iran, 2002) deftly observes: “They carried the unbearable weight of loss—loss of hope.” They also shoulder sacrifice, devotion, passion, shame, and regret. From “Father,” a brief glimpse of a husband tenderly caring for his wife after she miscarries, to “Second Marriage,” in which the protagonist grapples with the loss of his childhood sweetheart in an earthquake, these evocative stories artfully explore every facet of humanity.

An impressive collection about relationships in a turbulent Iran that offers powerful insights.

Pub Date: April 19, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5450-8037-5

Page Count: 254

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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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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Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

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EXHALATION

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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