Available only for the last five years in Russia itself, a searing document, worthy of shelving alongside Solzhenitsyn.

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KOLYMA STORIES

Sharply observed stories, from the thin line between autobiography and fiction, of life inside the Gulag.

Shalamov (1907-82) sympathized with Trotsky, and his father had been an Orthodox priest. For both sins, he was packed off to the mines of Kolyma, in the far northeastern corner of Russia. In the decades after his servitude, like many former prisoners, writes the translator in his introduction, “Shalamov…stuck to the principle of speaking as little as possible, and never when a third person (who might be an informant) was present.” Nevertheless, he quietly wrote thousands of pages, in some of which he recounted what he had learned from the Gulag: “I realized that one can live on anger,” he wrote, and then, “I realized that one can live on indifference.” In the stories, people live on whatever they can to keep them going in the cold, darkness, and hunger of the camps. One prisoner recounts that he and his fellow inmates had figured out a way to beat the system so that they would not receive “punishment rations,” helped along by the fact that “the guard was a softie: he knew, of course.” Other guards in Shalamov’s pages are harder, but all are implicated in a system in which they, too, can easily become prisoners themselves; so it is when one persecuting Soviet officer crosses wits with a lawyer and winds up falling afoul of his bosses. “He didn’t torment working people,” says another inmate to the lawyer, Andreyev, adding, “It’s because of you, people like you, that we get put in prison.” Assuring us that everything here happened, if veiled and restructured for narrative purposes, Shalamov recounts his transition to work as a paramedic, taught by a famous surgeon who had the bad luck to be related by marriage to a disgraced former Bolshevik. His long cycle of stories ends with his return to Moscow after almost 17 years: “I had come back from hell.”

Available only for the last five years in Russia itself, a searing document, worthy of shelving alongside Solzhenitsyn.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68137-214-3

Page Count: 776

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS

STORIES

A gathering of short stories by an ascended master of the form.

Best known for mega-bestselling horror yarns, King (Finders Keepers, 2015, etc.) has been writing short stories for a very long time, moving among genres and honing his craft. This gathering of 20 stories, about half previously published and half new, speaks to King’s considerable abilities as a writer of genre fiction who manages to expand and improve the genre as he works; certainly no one has invested ordinary reality and ordinary objects with as much creepiness as King, mostly things that move (cars, kid’s scooters, Ferris wheels). Some stories would not have been out of place in the pulp magazines of the 1940s and ’50s, with allowances for modern references (“Somewhere far off, a helicopter beats at the sky over the Gulf. The DEA looking for drug runners, the Judge supposes”). Pulpy though some stories are, the published pieces have noble pedigrees, having appeared in places such as Granta and The New Yorker. Many inhabit the same literary universe as Raymond Carver, whom King even name-checks in an extraordinarily clever tale of the multiple realities hidden in a simple Kindle device: “What else is there by Raymond Carver in the worlds of Ur? Is there one—or a dozen, or a thousand—where he quit smoking, lived to be 70, and wrote another half a dozen books?” Like Carver, King often populates his stories with blue-collar people who drink too much, worry about money, and mistrust everything and everyone: “Every time you see bright stuff, somebody turns on the rain machine. The bright stuff is never colorfast.” Best of all, lifting the curtain, King prefaces the stories with notes about how they came about (“This one had to be told, because I knew exactly what kind of language I wanted to use”). Those notes alone make this a must for aspiring writers.

Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1167-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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