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

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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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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

FLIGHTS

Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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