A novelty that occasionally succeeds as literature.



Meditations and stories of contemporary India as reflected through the eyes of a 17-year-old autistic youth.

Mukhopadhyay is widely known for his memoir of autism, The Mind Tree (2003), begun when he was eight. In the introduction here, his mother describes how she trained the young writer from the age of three. The 12 pieces collected here evince his determination to communicate through the written word. The first story, “The Showers,” is perhaps the strongest. Vignettes vividly evoke village life in the aftermath of a cyclone: Rival politicians argue; a young boy who hates buffalos is stuck with the task of caring for the stubborn beasts in an impromptu communal grazing area; a teenage girl disappears after she is raped. “Just a Smile” pays tribute to an act that is difficult for Mukhopadhyay. Several other pieces, including “Impressive People,” “Grey, Apple Green, and White” and “The Broken Mirror,” also elaborate on single concepts, illuminating strange turns of mind. Mukhopadhyay explores these concepts in abstract, repetitive prose that is at times mesmerizing, at times tedious. Stories focusing on character are more effective. “Little Grains of Dust,” for example, follows a tea-seller and sometime thief who has adopted a gypsy disregard for place and sees fixed identities as a form of bondage. Likewise, the title story takes an empathetic look at the adjustment an adolescent boy must make when his father goes to jail for gambling, leaving him to be the sole support of his grandmother and younger brother. “The Calendar” and “Man at the Bus Stop” riff humorously on office life. Mukhopadhyay’s explanatory notes preface each piece. Imagining the days “when Mother won’t be around to take care of me anymore” proved the inspiration for “The Field,” a story that awkwardly takes as its unifying motif a nebulous presence named Emma. The final entry, “The Climb,” chronicles a New Age-y pilgrim’s progress with pallid symbolism that never engages.

A novelty that occasionally succeeds as literature.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2005

ISBN: 1-55970-777-1

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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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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