Remarkable stories, threaded through with a bleak humor, describe life in the provinces of a Russia attempting to contend...



Stories about the absurdity, corruption, and daily mundanity of modern Russian life.

In his native Russia, Osipov, in addition to being a writer, is a cardiologist, an activist, and the founder of a small publishing company. His first book to be published in the United States is a marvelous collection of short stories in which not very much happens. One story follows a doctor on one of many uneventful trips to the U.S., where he escorts patients, for reasons unspecified. He makes money this way. On his way back to Moscow, a customs official will ask, “What are you traveling with?" and he’ll just say, “ 'All kinds of crap.’ They’ll smile as best they can—one of ours, on you go.” In another story, a geologist decides to join the priesthood despite the fact that “he didn’t even have a decent beard.” Even worse: “He couldn’t sing for his life. And a priest had to sing well.” Osipov clearly carries the weight of Chekhov’s and Bulgakov’s influence not only in his mix of professions, but also in his sense of humor—which is, to say the least, deadpan. Like Chekhov, too, many of Osipov’s stories meander along without a clearly delineated plot or, in the end, a sense of resolution. He is clearly concerned with Russia’s place in the modern world. Several stories, including the one about the airport-hopping doctor, comment on the way that Americans, at least superficially, seem to be driven by rules and regulations, a need for order. Back home, all those things have a way of going to hell. What matters to that customs official is not that the forms have been correctly filled in but that the doctor is “one of ours.”

Remarkable stories, threaded through with a bleak humor, describe life in the provinces of a Russia attempting to contend with the modern world.

Pub Date: April 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68137-332-4

Page Count: 312

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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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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