Thirteen stories in a second collection, mainly set in Paraguay, by US diplomat and novelist Jacobs (A Cast of Spaniards, 1994; Stone Cowboy, 1997). Jacobs— mind seems divided on Paraguay, fascinated and horrified to an equal degree by its history, religion, and politics. The title story, for example, describes the life of one Arami Bedoya, a peasant taken from her parents as a child and raised in a secret —orphanage— maintained to provide the country’s President with a steady supply of young mistresses. After escaping her fate by running away, Arami is consumed by a lust for vengeance and plots an assassination. —Down in Paraguay— chronicles an American’s unhappy marriage to a local woman. The husband, discovering his wife’s infidelity, considers murdering her and her lover, then gives up on the idea—only to be urged on by his young son, who cannot bear the dishonor of his —bad— mother. The murderous obsession of an unhappily wedded army sergeant with a young actor dominates —The Ballad of Tony Nail,— while —Mengele Dies Again— portrays the Nazi physician’s last days in Paraguay. —The Rape of Reason— is told from the perspective of Martin del Valle, a Bolivian intellectual from a prominent family who’s raised in exile in the States but returns home to teach at the University of La Paz. Expelled from the university for his —reactionary— views, he becomes a journalist who’s later threatened for opposing the government in his writing. The best piece here,—Marina in the Key of Blue Flat,— offers a portrait of a young housemaid who works for well-to-do Paraguayans and contrasts her own life with the privileges and fears of theirs. Sometimes unfocused and rambling, but, still, these sensitive insider’s stories give a vivid glimpse of a country that may always come across as foreign.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 1999

ISBN: 1-56947-135-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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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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