A fascinating mix of the exotic and the familiar.



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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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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