The complex burdens imposed by memory and the intricacies of familial love and obligation are analyzed with breathtaking subtlety in this brilliant debut collection of seven tales, written in the Urdu language by an Indian-born writer, critic, and teacher. Restrained emotion pulses powerfully through the lovely title story, in which a `parfumier` seeks the precise mixture of ingredients that will evoke the presence of a girl who died tragically young; the unusual supernatural stories `Sheesha Ghat` and `Ba'i's Mourners`; and `Interregnum,` the story of a grieving son's gradual acceptance of his father's death—`inherited,` along with the latter's possessions. Even more interesting are `The Myna from Peacock Gardens,` an `Arabian Nights`–like fairytale about a loving father who risks the wrath of a powerful sultan in order to fulfill his young daughter's wishes; and `Obscure Domains of fear and desire,` a curiously suggestive, possibly allegorical story that portrays a callow young man's descent into speechlessness and madness, caused by his attraction to his mysteriously `alluring` aunt. Wonderfully absorbing and rewarding: the work of a fully mature, highly accomplished artist.

Pub Date: April 1, 2000

ISBN: 1-56584-583-8

Page Count: -

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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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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