Funny and pointed satire from one of literature’s lost souls.

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AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A CORPSE

Eleven new translations of stories by one of Russia’s great writers, virtually unknown in his time.

Krzhizhanovsky (1887-1950) was exiled to obscurity under Soviet oppression. To this day, no one knows where he is buried. Just a sampling of the writer’s early-20th-century writings (Memories of the Future, 2009, etc.) offers a wealth of strange pleasures. In the title story, a remote journalist becomes obsessed with the autobiography of his room’s previous occupant. “In the Pupil” is another odd tale of an affair and a man’s journey into his lover’s eye. “Human love is a frightened thing with half-shut eyes: it dives into the dusk, skitters about in dark corners, speaks in whispers, hides behind curtains, and puts out the light,” Krzhizhanovsky writes. Some stories are both literal and fantastic; in “The Runaway Fingers,” a world-class pianist’s fingers run off to spend a night sleeping rough in the streets. In “Yellow Coal,” the world’s energy crisis is resolved by harnessing the world’s spite: The titular energy source is bile. Still others are distinctly Russian fairy tales. In “Bridge Over the Styx,” an albino Stygian toad asks an engineer to construct a bridge to Hades. This collection isn’t quite a revelation but definitely qualifies as buried treasure.

Funny and pointed satire from one of literature’s lost souls.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59017-670-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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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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