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Like the book’s excellent introduction, which teases a reader to want to know more about this woman’s life, these...

These short stories of Russian peasants, artists and lovers show few signs of their age and much that is timeless.

Teffi, pen name of Nadezhda Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya (1872-1952), was born in pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg and began publishing satirical articles in 1904, then mostly stories by 1911. The fiction collected here ranges from droll sketches to busy, deceptively simple human comedies and complex psychological excursions. A woman in “The Hat” tries on her old and new hats so often she leaves for a date—with a poet who has written no poetry—wearing the wrong one. In “Duty and Honour,” a woman follows a stern friend’s advice for ending an affair yet continues it by deleting a crucial “not” in her Dear John letter. In the autobiographical “Rasputin,” history and betrayal intertwine as writers gather for a dinner where one of them refuses a tryst with the great man. “The Quiet Backwater” is one of several stories that show how Teffi enriched what formerly might have been feuilletons. An old couple shares an estate’s ramshackle lodge and an understanding about a child born while he was away fighting; and the translation offers a luminous moment: “Softly rustle the reeds forgotten by the river.” History gets touched on again, lightly and darkly, in “Petrograd Monologue,” a story about food shortages during revolutionary times in which some make flatbread from face powder or window putty. The death of a sot lets the writer move slyly through the floors of his building cataloging the masks of solemnity placed over faces of scorn and indifference. Teffi’s grasp of a child’s tender sensibility is remarkable in “The Lifeless Beast,” as is her feeling for the range of love’s inner torments in “Thy Will.”

Like the book’s excellent introduction, which teases a reader to want to know more about this woman’s life, these wide-ranging, brief works whet an appetite for more of her fiction.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-78227-037-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pushkin Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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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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Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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