The infinite and the ineffable, portrayed with singular wit and charm.

A TRANQUIL STAR

UNPUBLISHED STORIES OF PRIMO LEVI

Universal mysteries and the legacy of world war are imaginatively transfigured in this beguiling collection of the late (1919–87) Italian polymath’s short fiction.

The book gathers 17 stories published between 1949 and 1986 that reflect the author’s humanist viewpoint and the range of interests displayed in such classic works as The Periodic Table and Report from Auschwitz. Both the war in which Levi unhappily served and the Holocaust he survived are fictionalized in a terse vignette about an Italian partisan who finds a way to “resist” his German captors (“The Death of Marinese”) and a troubling parable (“One Night”) in which an orgy of destruction is perpetrated by “little people” who appear seemingly from nowhere. Elsewhere, unforeseen complications lurk in the innovation of a sleekly packaged killing device (“Knall”) and in the experience of workers in a paint factory (Levi himself was one) where a mixture “that provided protection from misfortune” is created (in “The Magic Paint”). Presumptions of social control are calmly skewered in an understated account of a public spectacle that offers commuted sentences to prisoners who perform as “Gladiators” combating cars, and in the tale of a nondescript clerk entrusted with recording—and arranging—other people’s deaths. There’s a hint of Borges in the description of a lavish fantasyland populated by famous literary characters (featuring such promising pairings as the Marquis de Sade’s Justine with Dracula), and one of Calvino in a fable of social unease as experienced by a kangaroo invited to a lavish “Buffet Dinner.” And the relationships between scientists’ discoveries and their own flawed perspectives and powers are brilliantly conveyed in a wry tale of embattled ethnographers in the Bolivian jungle (“The Sorcerers”) and in the radiant title story, about a fluid celestial entity that mysteriously resists both predictability and classification.

The infinite and the ineffable, portrayed with singular wit and charm.

Pub Date: April 11, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-393-06468-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2007

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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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