Appealing stories bear witness to a dark reality.

LOVE LIKE WATER, LOVE LIKE FIRE

Autobiographical fiction portrays life in Soviet Russia.

Thirty years after the publication of Every Hunter Wants To Know, Iossel, who was born in 1955 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1986, offers another engaging collection of stories evoking his Soviet childhood and young adulthood. Jewish identity is a recurring theme: In “Necessary Evil,” parents surprise their 9-year-old son by telling him that he is a Jew. Encouraging him to “embrace it unreservedly, because it defines by far the most important part of you,” they assure him that Jews are “covert agents” to promote good in the world. Yet the news is unsettling for a child who sees blatant anti-Semitism everywhere. What if all the Soviet people who deride Jews are right? he wonders. Besides, as the narrator of “The Night We Were Told Brezhnev Was Dead” reflects: “Hardly any one of us knew the first thing about Jewish history or a single word of the Jewish language, which was called Hebrew and was banned from private study.” As a Jew, he feels especially vulnerable to the state’s repression: “All of us Soviet people existed largely at the mercy of the KGB”—especially Jews. Yet the Soviet Union insisted it was a “society of ultimate justice,” in contrast to America, “a dark, dangerous, ominously rumbling, potentially deadly word.” America was to be hated, and “ordinary oppressed, exploited, proletarian Americans” were to be pitied. While many stories illuminate the absurdity of Soviet society, Iossel conveys the brutal oppression of the surveillance state most intensely, and hauntingly, in the title story: an internal monologue by a wife fearing that agents have come to arrest her husband in the middle of the night. “Anyone can be disappeared at any time,” she thinks, knowing that she will be taken soon after, their orphaned children will be indoctrinated to hate them, and no one will care.

Appealing stories bear witness to a dark reality.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-942658-56-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31817-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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