A tremendous new voice; a writer of immense talent and depth.

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FOREIGN SOIL

In this aptly named story collection by Clarke (The Hate Race, 2016), an Australian writer of Afro-Caribbean heritage, people living in various countries struggle to build better lives for themselves.

In the title story, Millie Lucas, a pretty teenage girl from a poor Jamaican farming family, is sent to work in a Kingston sewing shop, which her parents see as a step up in the world for her, only to fall victim to a man's seduction. In the deeply haunting “David,” the lives of two Sudanese women living in Australia intersect: one is older, more traditional, and still traumatized by the shooting of her young child in the war back home; the other is a younger, more modern single mom who has just left her son’s father because he “was no good.” Here, the gap between generations that, at first, gives the older woman a negative judgment of the younger woman’s life choices gives way to a single, cathartic moment of human connection. Then there is the story of Harlem Jones, whose West Indian immigrant mother wants him to make more of his life than his absent father and incarcerated brother have managed to do with theirs since the family settled in London. “Ye need te pull yeself together, Harlem," is his mother’s ongoing refrain. "Ye father an I never come te dis country te raise delinquent children." Clarke fully inhabits the voices of her characters—a masterful feat given their wide range of age, gender, race, country of origin, and country of residence. While many of the stories explore the lives of immigrants, the characters are not stereotypes or stand-ins to further a political ideology; they are simply people caught in situations ranging from the desperate to the more mundane, trying to live their lives the best way they know how.

A tremendous new voice; a writer of immense talent and depth.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3636-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: 37 Ink/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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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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