An interesting perspective on an unfamiliar world. Tales that are well crafted but ultimately rather repetitive.


Twelve pieces, a combination of fiction and nonfiction, describe life among Native Americans who have left the reservations and entered mainstream society.

Power (the novel Grass Dancer, 1994), a Sioux who grew up in Chicago and studied at Harvard, writes pretty closely of her own experience, to such an extent that her pieces seem as much a set of variations on a theme as a collection of separate tales. The narrators are mostly young women of Sioux/Dakota origin living in urban centers far removed (both spiritually and geographically) from the reservations and tribal homelands of their ancestors. The title story, for example, describes the unhappy domestic life of a Sioux family in Chicago: Told by a girl, it portrays the quiet trauma when an Indian-rights organizer leaves his wife and family and returns to the reservation—ostensibly to do political work, but in reality to seek a new life with his girlfriend. Some stories examine the tensions of mixed marriages. “Watermelon Seeds” is an account of a Mexican-American girl from Chicago who becomes pregnant by a Chippewa from Wisconsin, while “The Attic” sorts through the family histories of a half-Sioux, half–Irish-American girl who finds some resonance in the history of persecution among her ancestors on both sides of her family. “Angry Fish” is an excursion into magic-realism, introducing us to Mitchell Black Deer, a Sioux in Chicago who becomes friendly with a talking statue of St. Jude. Other pieces concern the relation between past and present: The narrator of “First Fruits” (a Harvard freshman, a Sioux) becomes so intrigued by the story of the first Indian to graduate from the college (in 1655) that she begins to see him on campus, while the young narrator of “Museum Indians” visits the Natural History Museum in Chicago to see the Indian dress donated by her Dakota grandmother.

An interesting perspective on an unfamiliar world. Tales that are well crafted but ultimately rather repetitive.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-57131-039-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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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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