Freund does a remarkable job of telling his “Tales” from the perspective of a countryman who understands that memories are...

TALES IN A MINOR KEY

Freund (West of West End, 2008, etc.) pens a suspenseful collection of short stories about Romanian Jews as they lived before, during and after the Holocaust, bringing to life two-faced converts to Christianity, Swiss money-launderers and voluptuous enchantresses.

Fans of Eastern European history, Jewish literature and World War II remembrances will thoroughly enjoy Freund’s rich, unique characters, unpredictable storylines and well-deserved rewards. Freund is skilled at writing about his homeland, Romania, where he lived through student rebellions and the experience of being placed in front of a firing squad. In his second collection of short stories about Eastern Europe, Freund takes readers on a century-long journey with the stories roughly arranged in chronological order. He begins with a description of an alderman who lived in the late 1890s and ends with the thoughts of a treasure hunter who visits post-Communist Romania. Freund’s most daring venture, “Rational Expectations,” is about a reunion between old acquaintances and lovers; the author skillfully relates past and present events, including a passionate encounter in a pharmacy backroom, from multiple points of view. At times, Freund floods the text with too many historical details, and several stories—particularly “Koloman’s Cross”—read as tedious morality plays. But Freund rescues his work by injecting a playful spirit into his characters. In “Feeding the Piranhas,” two Romanian Jews make a business of booking tickets to Rio for German Nazis desperate to leave Portugal, and the price is always at least one suitcase of German stocks. After the war is over, the partners realize they have “to find a place with a proper appreciation of the virtues of both cleanliness and discretion.” They simultaneously arrive at the same conclusion: “Almost in unison we shouted out ‘Switzerland.’” Overall, the author presents a well-crafted, thoughtful commentary on corruption, anti-Semitism, love and secrecy.

Freund does a remarkable job of telling his “Tales” from the perspective of a countryman who understands that memories are sweeter in exile.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1468040388

Page Count: 168

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2012

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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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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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