THE WOMAN WHO BORROWED MEMORIES

SELECTED STORIES OF TOVE JANSSON

Windows crop up often in Jansson’s stories, reflecting the transparent wall between her lonely characters and their worlds...

Twenty-six spare, slyly off-kilter stories collected from the life work of Swedish-speaking Jansson, who wrote 11 works of adult fiction (The Summer Book, 1972, etc.) as well as a series of children’s books (Moominpappa’s Memoirs, 1994, etc.) before her death in 2001.

Written between 1971 and 1998, these stories consider loneliness, family, aging and creative experience, sometimes all together as in the opening story, “The Listener,” about an elderly woman who creates an elaborate chart of her memories. In “Black-White” and “The Other,” artists find themselves erasing the line between art and life, while “The Cartoonist” expresses artistic ambivalence as a man hired to carry on someone else’s cartoon becomes obsessed with understanding why his predecessor quit. “The Doll’s House,” concerning a retired upholsterer who builds a miniature world for himself and his uninterested lover, asks who ultimately owns the finished creation. In “A Leading Role” and “White Lady,” actresses juggle artificial roles and reality. In “The Wolf,” one of several stories with animal titles, a woman wonders if the Japanese artist she’s hosting will draw the caged animal they see together at the zoo or the one he imagines. In one of the volume’s most disturbing stories, it isn’t clear if a woman writer living purposely alone on an island allows a squirrel to terrorize her or if “The Squirrel” is her creation. Other stories use travel to consider relationships, memory and isolation. Most, like “A Foreign City” and “The Woman Who Borrowed Memories,” feature characters whose lives go out of kilter. But a few—“The Summer Child,” about a rural family and the difficult boy they take in for the summer; “The Garden of Eden,” about a woman negotiating between warring expat neighbors in Spain; “Travelling Light,” about a man who can’t escape his own generosity—offer slivers of gently sweetened optimism.

Windows crop up often in Jansson’s stories, reflecting the transparent wall between her lonely characters and their worlds but also Jansson’s expression of intangible thoughts and feelings with lucent prose.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59017-766-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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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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