Murray’s writing is chilly, but she is astute about the addictive nature of adventure and the unnerving relationship between...

TALES OF THE NEW WORLD

In 10 stories by Murray (Forgery, 2007, etc.), historical figures adventure into new worlds largely because they feel excluded in their old ones.

“Fish,” practically a novella, introduces and lays out the theme of outsider-turned-explorer in the story of Mary Kingsley. A meekly subservient Victorian daughter, she barely leaves her house until she is 29. Then using her health as an excuse, she travels to the Canary Islands. Soon she’s hiking into the African interior where no Brit has gone before. Murray focuses on Kingsley’s interior life, the fairies that bedevil her as she defies convention. The stories that follow seldom display the same emotional complexity, although “His Actual Mark” comes close: In old age Edward Jon Eyre tries to reconcile the disconnect between his 1840 trek across Australia alone with a young aborigine, to whom he owes his survival, and his controversial fame for suppressing rebellion among Jamaican blacks 25 years later. “Paradise” probes the identity of Jim Jones of Jonestown infamy, and by extension other monster leaders from Pol Pot to Idi Amin to Hitler. The monsters of “The Solace of Monsters” are both whales and the whalers who hunt and fear them. Buccaneer William Dampier sails around the world three times, sometimes with the British government’s blessing. Readers may wonder if the young Jesuit who becomes Dr. Murray and travels to the Far East is the author’s father, but the story “Periplus” feels more philosophic than personal. Elsewhere, a self-proclaimed Venetian scholar sailing with Magellan chronicles the explorer’s wrongheaded choices even as he falls in love with him. A seer helplessly foretells the destruction of the Aztecs by the Spanish invasion. “Balboa” is a pig farmer escaping debt. And finally while visiting “On Sakhalin” and taking a fake census of the penal colony, Chekhov represents the storywriter as explorer and outsider both.

Murray’s writing is chilly, but she is astute about the addictive nature of adventure and the unnerving relationship between the explorer and those he explores/hunts.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8021-7083-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2011

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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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HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS

Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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