It’s no coincidence that the epigraph of this fiction is from George Orwell, for Drakulic is similarly aware of moral...



In a series of fables set in Eastern Europe, Drakulic (Two Underdogs and a Cat: Three Reflections on Communism, 2009, etc.), a native of Croatia, explores with wit, grace and humor the collapse of communism.

The author begins her collection with the memoirs of Bohumil, a mouse now housed in a school cabinet in The Museum of Communism in Prague. The conceit of this first story is that Bohumil is leading Hans, a mouse from Würzburg, on a tour of the museum, which is full of “ugly things“ and hence a refuge from all the beautiful buildings in Prague. The museum even contains an interrogation room as an unnostalgic reminder of the recent political past. In the next story the narrator is Koki, a talking parrot who recounts his past history with Marshal Tito. Koki presents Tito not only as the establisher of a personality cult but as a dashing figure, a ladies’ man who “[exudes] charisma even when wearing shorts." The following story features Todor, a dancing bear from Bulgaria who wonders whether he’s in fact a symbol of society. (He is.) And so it goes. Other sections are narrated by a cat, a mole (who tunnels under the Berlin Wall), a pig (who notices she bears a striking resemblance to Miss Piggy), the oldest dog in Bucharest and, finally, a psychotic raven. The latter provides one of the most interesting turns in Drakulic’s fiction, for the raven has flown into a psychiatric hospital in Albania, and years later the psychiatrist who treated the raven left a journal of her notes to her son, who tries to make sense of his mother’s experience. The son believes his mother has written about Mr. Raven, as he is called, in a kind of code—that he’s not a raven at all but rather someone who entered the hospital and needed to disguise his identity.

It’s no coincidence that the epigraph of this fiction is from George Orwell, for Drakulic is similarly aware of moral failure and political excess.   

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-14-311863-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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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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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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