A literate delight, and a book to look forward to reading more than once.

THE ENCHANTED WANDERER

AND OTHER STORIES

A welcome new translation of Leskov’s grand metaphysical romp, a hallmark of 19th-century Russian literature.

Leskov (1831–1895) is less well-known in this country than his near-contemporaries Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and even if Anton Chekhov claimed him as a literary ancestor—and that’s saying something—Leskov’s masterpiece doesn’t often figure on reading lists. Pevear and Volokhonsky, late of War and PeaceAnna Karenina and Dr. Zhivago, may remedy that with this accessible translation, which does a good job of preserving some of Leskov’s well-known wordplay while not being pedantic. Pevear and Volokhonsky are known for preferring to use only English words in circulation at the time of a given book’s original publication, so the tone has the slightest patina to it, as with sentences such as “I chose as a pretext that I supposedly had to go buy medicine from the herbalists for the horses, and so I went, but I went not simply, but with a cunning design.” That said, the stories gathered here, all lightly linked in the way that those of the Canterbury Tales are, remain marvels of narration, sacred and profane—for, as the translators note, the Russian word strannik  “can mean anything from a real pilgrim to a simple vagabond.” The opener is a stern study in the dangers of adultery; then come other pieces set in “Wooden Russia,” the old heartland south of Moscow, with all its elaborate prejudices against Gypsies, Jews, Ukrainians and the other outsiders who so often figure in Leskov’s pages. One takeaway: Leskov admonishes us not to fear ghosts, for they “behaved themselves much more light-mindedly and, frankly speaking, stupidly, than they had shown themselves in earthly life.”

A literate delight, and a book to look forward to reading more than once.

Pub Date: March 26, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-307-26882-2

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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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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HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS

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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