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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Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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