A welcome collection by a master of English prose—lucid and precisely written, if often bringing news only of...


STORIES, 1952-2007

Sterling collection of short stories, 38 in all, by the South African Nobelist.

Gordimer (Telling Times: Writing and Living, 1954-2008, 2010, etc.) has been writing for more than 60 years now, but her concerns have been constant: race, justice, the South African land. In a typical story, the landscape is austere, tough and unforgiving, just the sort of thing to bring out the best in a few hardy people, but calculated to wear down the spirits of most others. So it is that in the opening piece, a young couple, he confined to a wheelchair, go out to take the air in the garden just in time for a swarm of locusts to descend; tending to one that somehow has lost a leg, they find their situations in odd parallel (“being in the same boat,” Gordimer writes, “absolved him from responsibility or pity”). The world is not a place where much pity is to be found, as a country fellow discovers among his city brethren, come there to reclaim the body of his deceased brother, only to be confronted with the curious fact that something called a postmortem has been conducted. And then—well, says one friendly overseer in those days of apartheid, “You can’t go to fetch your brother. They’ve done it already—they’ve buried him, you understand?” No, he does not understand, as so many of Gordimer’s characters talk past each other, not quite acknowledging the other’s humanity. Some of the stories clearly date to the early days of resistance to apartheid, politically charged and with passing references to the first stirrings of the African National Congress; others take place in the thick of the battle for justice, amid “beer-serious conversations about the possibility of the end of the world.” Four of the stories are new, an added pleasure for admirers of Gordimer’s work.

A welcome collection by a master of English prose—lucid and precisely written, if often bringing news only of disappointment, fear and loss.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-374-27053-7

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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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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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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