Tender insight into the fascinating emotional and social implications of a career that is, inherently, so much more than a...



A searing, perfectly paced set of linked stories that explores the careers and relationships of four Toronto doctors.

Ming, Chen, Fitzgerald and Sri are young physicians whose lives intertwine both casually and intimately as they navigate the painstaking (and often painful) road to becoming physicians. We first meet Ming and Fitzgerald in Ottawa as they are studying for their pre-med exams and cautiously entering a relationship doomed by Ming’s career-obsessed immigrant parents, the ghosts of abuse by her older cousin and, above all, the knowledge that Ming will be accepted to medical school and Fitzgerald will not. He does follow her, eventually, but not before she has linked herself with a more appropriate boyfriend, her lab partner, Chen. The tension between the characters pales, though, when they graduate and begin their careers. Each must face situations that test their abilities, their integrity and their strength. A paranoid mental patient, for example, who is obsessed with his neighbor and also convinced that she is trying to poison him, causes Sri to momentarily doubt his own sanity. And Fitzgerald wonders how to care, both physically and mentally, for a hostile patient brought to the hospital in shackles by unsympathetic police officers. When Sri is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the tables turn on him, and his role as a life-saver ironically becomes futile when he cannot save his own. The stories culminate in a health crisis of a much larger scale, when Fitzgerald contracts the SARS virus from a patient, and then passes it to Chen, who examines him. The two wait in quarantine, once romantic rivals, now reliant on one another, and suddenly their profession seems to be at once pointless and more important than ever.

Tender insight into the fascinating emotional and social implications of a career that is, inherently, so much more than a job.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-60286-000-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Weinstein Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2007

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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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