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

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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2007

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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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The thirty-one stories of the late Flannery O'Connor, collected for the first time. In addition to the nineteen stories gathered in her lifetime in Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965) and A Good Man is Hard to Find (1955) there are twelve previously published here and there. Flannery O'Connor's last story, "The Geranium," is a rewritten version of the first which appears here, submitted in 1947 for her master's thesis at the State University of Iowa.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1971

ISBN: 0374515360

Page Count: 555

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1971

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