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

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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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Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

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EXHALATION

Exploring humankind's place in the universe and the nature of humanity, many of the stories in this stellar collection focus on how technological advances can impact humanity’s evolutionary journey.

Chiang's (Stories of Your Life and Others, 2002) second collection begins with an instant classic, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” which won Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette in 2008. A time-travel fantasy set largely in ancient Baghdad, the story follows fabric merchant Fuwaad ibn Abbas after he meets an alchemist who has crafted what is essentially a time portal. After hearing life-changing stories about others who have used the portal, he decides to go back in time to try to right a terrible wrong—and realizes, too late, that nothing can erase the past. Other standout selections include “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a story about a software tester who, over the course of a decade, struggles to keep a sentient digital entity alive; “The Great Silence,” which brilliantly questions the theory that humankind is the only intelligent race in the universe; and “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny,” which chronicles the consequences of machines raising human children. But arguably the most profound story is "Exhalation" (which won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Short Story), a heart-rending message and warning from a scientist of a highly advanced, but now extinct, race of mechanical beings from another universe. Although the being theorizes that all life will die when the universes reach “equilibrium,” its parting advice will resonate with everyone: “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.”

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.

Pub Date: May 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-94788-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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