Richly varied and moving fiction: the work of a little-known writer who deserves to be remembered.




Family obligation and religious and political allegiance: such are the dominant themes in this first English-language collection of the work of the late (1934–81) Israeli author.

Best known for his autobiographical novels Past Continuous (1984) and Past Perfect (1987), Shabtai was an exquisite stylist equally adept at brief vignettes resonant with implied emotion and ampler narratives that wrest drama from carefully developed characterizations. The best of these 14 gemlike miniatures (several of which feature the same unidentified omniscient narrator) include a boy’s memory of growing up terrorized by his insanely pious grandfather (“Adoshem”); the meeting of an elderly widow and widower, each of whom expects the other to be the one to offer “A Marriage Proposal”; a mother’s vigil at the bedside of her son, the possessor of an angelic tenor voice, who’s now dying of AIDS (“Twilight”); and a grandson’s account (“Departure”) of the passing of his beloved grandmother, “Little by little . . . . Like a strip of brown land, receding from the eyes of the travelers on a ship . . . . ” Of the longer stories, “Cordoba” doesn’t do enough with the relationship between an Israeli architect touring Spain and the virginal American girl to whom he’s attracted; but “Uncle Shmuel” offers an appealing portrayal of an ebullient, distractingly ambitious jack-of-all trades. And Shabtai strikes deeper in the compact tale (“The Voyage to Mauritius”) of a socialist atheist whose Job-like travail and arduous passage (during WWII) to the new country of Israel purifies and ennobles him. Shabtai’s versatility is shown by the picaresque tale of a resourceful hustler noted for his ingenious moneymaking schemes (“A Private and Very Awesome Leopard”) and the unusual title story, which details a passionate Communist’s obsession with the unstable woman “revolutionary” who loves, leaves, and unmans him.

Richly varied and moving fiction: the work of a little-known writer who deserves to be remembered.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2004

ISBN: 1-58567-340-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2004

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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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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.


Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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