LOVE AND LONGING IN BOMBAY

STORIES

Five ingeniously linked long stories by the young Indian-born author whose impressive fictional debut was the magical-realist Red Earth and Pouring Rain (1995). These stories, which are uniformly full-bodied and richly detailed, are told by a convivial yet enigmatic civil servant, Subramaniam, to his attentive cronies in a bar called the Fisherman's Rest. Each recounts a quest of some kind, and all are distinguished by unusually detailed and persuasive characterizations. ``Dharma'' tells of a stoical combat veteran who experiences ``phantom pain'' in his amputated leg and consequently a ghostly visitation that brings equally painful memories of his childhood. ``Shakti'' is an amusing tale of rivalry between two socially ambitious women that is resolved by an unexpected alliance. In ``Kama,'' the investigation of an apparently open-and- shut robbery and murder uncovers a morass of sexual and political misdoing and the complicated personal life of Sartaj, the police detective who learns as much about himself as about the killer he pursues. ``Artha'' and ``Shanti,'' respectively, describe a gay computer programmer's dangerous search for information about his disappeared lover, and a twin bereft of his brother and in love with a beautiful married woman who travels ceaselessly looking for the truth about her long-lost husband, a soldier reported missing in action. ``Love and longing'' indeed are thus, in various ways, the motive forces behind these pieces—and in the last, the tale- teller Subramaniam is himself an important presence, and we realize how the preceding stories have also expressed aspects of his own loves and longings. A brilliant work, equally effective in its radiant separate parts and as a pleasingly complex and highly original construction.

Pub Date: March 5, 1997

ISBN: 0-316-13307-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1997

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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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Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

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EXHALATION

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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