Despite the old-fashioned milieu these stories move in, they are compelling in their elegance and for Jhabvala's poised,...

AT THE END OF THE CENTURY

A career-spanning collection of stories about the collision of East and West.

When Jhabvala (A Lovesong for India, 2012, etc.) died in 2013, she left behind a prodigious body of work that had garnered her a Booker Prize for Heat and Dust (1975) and Oscars for co-writing the screenplays to A Room with a View and Howards End. Born in Germany, educated in England, and married for more than 50 years to an Indian architect, Jhabvala described herself as a perpetual refugee, moving for much of her later life between New York’s Upper East Side and India. The 17 short stories in this collection take us from the early 1960s through 2013, though in a way they all feel as if they belong to an earlier time: Westerners, bored with their imploding lives, latch on to the perceived exoticism of India. In one story, two rich sisters (one married to a pompous American businessman, the other sleeping with him) become infatuated with a young Indian screenwriter (“Pagans”). In another, an English secretary heads to India to devote herself to assisting a guru despite the fact that she has competition for his attention from a brash German devotee (“A Spiritual Call”). Sometimes, Jhabvala switches the dynamics, as when a wealthy Indian college student begins a disastrous affair with a mousy English lecturer (“A Course of English Studies”). Whatever the premise, Jhabvala is interested in binaries; poverty plays a foil to wealth, India to Europe, age to youth, family to the individual. Even more, she wants to explore the ways that characters are shaken out of their familiar lives by “too much and too violent a humanity.”

Despite the old-fashioned milieu these stories move in, they are compelling in their elegance and for Jhabvala's poised, precise eye, which stays consistent and steady through the decades.

Pub Date: Dec. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-64009-137-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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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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