Overall, Ali shows an almost anthropological interest in his characters, and a keen eye for the humanistic detail: a richly...

THE PROPHET OF ZONGO STREET

STORIES

Ten lively, polished stories from Ghanian-American writer Ali about the transformation of Africa from old country to new.

Ali’s tales alternate between a hometown setting of Zongo Street—a densely populated neighborhood of Ghana’s bustling city of Kumasi, where the locals toil as small merchants—and the ethnic neighborhoods of New York City, where young Ghanian immigrants strive to make modern wages in predominantly white America. First, on Zongo Street, the 91-year-old Uwargida, one of the four widows of the Hausa King, shuffles out nightly to regale the neighborhood children with scary mythological tales, such as the story of the eternal dueling between the devil boy and the priest in “The Story of Day and Night.” In “Mallam Sile,” the eponymous bachelor tea-seller on Zongo Street marries the big, strong lady named Abeeba, whose daunting brawn intimidates her husband’s customers into settling their bills. “The Manhood Test” recounts hilariously the poignant events leading up to a husband’s having to prove his virility to his wife publicly while the old-lady lafiree judges. In “Man Pass Man,” the local swindler’s mean tricks on people lead to a terrifying interview with the devil himself. Transplanted to America, Ghanians have to tread carefully amid the entrenched racism of whites. In “Rachmaninov,” a young Ghanian artist hooks up drunkenly with a rich blonde American woman in the city and spends a terrifying night trying to sober her up rather than call 911 and risk a racial backlash. A Brooklyn musician in “The True Aryan” has to endure a tedious lecture in multicultural empathy by his Armenian cab driver; while the vulnerable domestic worker in “Live-in,” Shatu, a widow seeking work to support her three children back in Ghana, undergoes hostility from her elderly Long Island charge and untoward attention from her employer.

Overall, Ali shows an almost anthropological interest in his characters, and a keen eye for the humanistic detail: a richly rewarding cultural study.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-052354-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2005

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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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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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