THE GOLD OF THE SUNBEAMS

AND OTHER STORIES

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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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SIGHTSEEING

STORIES

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Seven stories, including a couple of prizewinners, from an exuberantly talented young Thai-American writer.

In the poignant title story, a young man accompanies his mother to Kok Lukmak, the last in the chain of Andaman Islands—where the two can behave like “farangs,” or foreigners, for once. It’s his last summer before college, her last before losing her eyesight. As he adjusts to his unsentimental mother’s acceptance of her fate, they make tentative steps toward the future. “Farangs,” included in Best New American Voices 2005 (p. 711), is about a flirtation between a Thai teenager who keeps a pet pig named Clint Eastwood and an American girl who wanders around in a bikini. His mother, who runs a motel after having been deserted by the boy’s American father, warns him about “bonking” one of the guests. “Draft Day” concerns a relieved but guilty young man whose father has bribed him out of the draft, and in “Don’t Let Me Die in This Place,” a bitter grandfather has moved from the States to Bangkok to live with his son, his Thai daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The grandfather’s grudging adjustment to the move and to his loss of autonomy (from a stroke) is accelerated by a visit to a carnival, where he urges the whole family into a game of bumper cars. The longest story, “Cockfighter,” is an astonishing coming-of-ager about feisty Ladda, 15, who watches as her father, once the best cockfighter in town, loses his status, money, and dignity to Little Jui, 16, a meth addict whose father is the local crime boss. Even Ladda is in danger, as Little Jui’s bodyguards try to abduct her. Her mother tells Ladda a family secret about her father’s failure of courage in fighting Big Jui to save his own sister’s honor. By the time Little Jui has had her father beaten and his ear cut off, Ladda has begun to realize how she must fend for herself.

A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-8021-1788-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2004

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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