A fascinating mix of the exotic and the familiar.

DROPPED FROM HEAVEN

STORIES

Debut collection spotlighting the little-known but centuries-old culture of the Bene Israel community in the author’s native India.

Judah’s 19 stories follow the Jewish inhabitants of a fictional town in central India from the 1890s to the near present, by which time most have immigrated (as the author herself did) to Israel. The first two tales, set in the years between 1890 and 1930, display a humorous yet mythic tone reminiscent of family histories handed down orally over generations. As time passes, the fictional edges become sharper, the sociology and psychology more contemporary. In “My Friend Joseph,” for example, narrator Bentzion charmingly describes how he and Joseph met and wooed their wives after serving in the Boer War. Many years later, in “A Girl from My Hometown,” the two friends stand helplessly by while their grandchildren’s marriage arrangement falls apart after Joseph’s grandson announces his plan to emigrate. Still later, an aged, lonely Joseph meets another grandson, raised in Israel, who visits India on a lark after finishing his military service (a frequent motif here). Two stories in the 1930–64 section lightheartedly follow the evolution of Benjamin and Hannah’s childhood friendship into love and marriage despite class differences and the snobbery of Hannah’s mother. Tragedy strikes the couple, and later their offspring, in tales that take place from 1964 to 2000. The third main narrative strand follows Jude Paul, born Judah Saul, the illegitimate son of a Jewish father and a Christian mother who left him at the local Catholic Church to be raised by a priest. In “My Son, Jude Paul,” the priest worries about Jude’s bitterness toward his father, but Jude matures over the course of subsequent stories into the most complex character here, a successful, yet emotionally sensitive military officer.

A fascinating mix of the exotic and the familiar.

Pub Date: March 27, 2007

ISBN: 0-8052-4248-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Schocken

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2007

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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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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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