Still, these characters’ observations and revelations ring true.

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AWAKE IN THE DARK

STORIES

Holocaust survivors and their children battle dreams, memory and elusive truths in this debut collection.

In “The House on Kronenstrasse,” Christiane returns to Germany after her elderly mother dies, traveling from New York, where she was raised, to Heidelberg, the town where she was born to a Nazi soldier who died early in the war, and a German housekeeper, who worked for a family of wealthy Jews. She makes the trip to her mother’s deathbed, urging that she go back to the home where they lived as a family, at 58 Kronenstrasse. When Christiane arrives there, however, she finds that her own childhood memories seem to be those of another girl’s life. “The Porcelain Monkey” blends a historical footnote—in 1759, the composer Felix Mendelssohn’s grandfather, a Jew, was forced to buy 20 hideous, life-sized porcelain monkeys from the Royal Porcelain Works in order to obtain King Frederich’s permission to marry—with a contemporary Orthodox Jew’s decision to reveal to her daughter some dark secrets. In “The Lamp,” Miriam finds her mother, Ruth, has passed away, leaving behind a note asking her to protect the ugly old lamp her mother brought to America as a refugee from Germany. In a parallel storyline, Ruth narrates the provenance of the lamp—and her daughter. “Dark Urgings of the Blood” follows the increasingly fraught relationship between psychiatrist Deborah and her patient Dvorah, an Orthodox mother of seven who is institutionalized for trying to kill her infant son. The similarity of their names is just the first of many coincidences that lead Deborah to explore a darkness of her own. Nayman, a psychologist, constructs powerful emotional journeys for her characters, but does so from a clinical distance that keeps the reader once removed.

Still, these characters’ observations and revelations ring true.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-9268-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

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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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