A fine collection that manages to re-create a distant and exotic world, from a writer who deserves to be better known in...

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ALL THAT IS GONE

STORIES

Eight stories by celebrated Indonesian novelist Toer (The Girl From the Coast, 2002, etc.), most of them fictionalized memoirs of his childhood and youth.

Born in 1925, the son of a nationalist schoolmaster in East Java, the author grew up in a home that was a center of the nascent anticolonialist movement. The characters here, very obviously modeled closely on his relatives and himself, are educated, provincial Indonesians who move somewhat awkwardly between, on the one hand, the traditions of Islam and village life and, on the other, the modern consciousness that underlay the development of Indonesian nationalism. The title story features a young boy’s impressionistic recollections of his childhood home: his schoolmaster father participates in the nationalist movement and is often away for long periods of time; his long-suffering and devout Muslim mother suffers from her husband’s neglect but endures nonetheless. “In Twilight Born” continues the saga, describing the turmoil that is wrought when a local teacher makes his home into a center of anticolonial activity and nearly has his school shut down by the authorities in consequence. “Circumcision” offers an unusually nostalgic view of Islam from the perspective of an 11-year-old boy who recalls his circumcision and the celebrations that followed. “Inem” counters with a sad account of a poor servant girl forced into an arranged marriage at the age of eight. Family life is Toer’s dominant theme here, but he can turn his attention outward as well. “Revenge” depicts a young private in the nationalist forces who must look the other way when he witnesses one of his officers torturing a captured soldier, and “Independence Day” portrays the quiet shame of a blind and crippled hero of the war of independence who comes to resent being looked after by his wealthy family.

A fine collection that manages to re-create a distant and exotic world, from a writer who deserves to be better known in this country.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2004

ISBN: 1-4013-6663-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2003

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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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