A worthwhile read for aspiring ethnographers or readers interested in South Pacific culture.

A Red Woman Was Crying

STORIES FROM NAGOVISI

This collection of short stories by anthropologist Mitchell provides a window into the culture of the Pacific Islands.

The Nagovisi people live in West-Central Bougainville Island, which is part of the Solomon Islands in terms of culture and ethnicity but is politically part of Papua New Guinea. Although the stories Mitchell presents are to be read as fiction rather than ethnography, they nevertheless offer a glimpse of a group of people and a way of living with which many readers are likely unfamiliar. The tales, which range in length from a single page to 50, display a variety of storytelling techniques. Some, such as “Crocodile Kills His Father” and the eponymous “A Red Woman Was Crying,” are takes on traditional folktales. In the former, after a woman named Sipita gives birth to the first crocodile, she hides him in a basket and warns her husband not to look inside, just as, say, Bluebeard warned his wife not to open the closet and Pandora was warned not to open her box. Some of the stories give a view of the larger Nagovisi culture and seem representative of what might be told to children, the equivalent of the Western tale of Mother Goose. Others have a more typical narrative structure and, rather than highlighting any sort of overarching mythology or belief system, serve to explicate aspects of day-to-day life in this culture. There’s much of interest here, particularly to readers with an anthropological bent, but even though Mitchell doesn’t aim for this to be an academic text, a little more context would be helpful. The collection would also read more smoothly if the folktales were presented in some kind of lucid order; as is, the contrasts in style can be abrupt and somewhat jarring.

A worthwhile read for aspiring ethnographers or readers interested in South Pacific culture.

Pub Date: July 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-0983307242

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Saddle Road Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2014

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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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The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

THE AWKWARD BLACK MAN

A grandmaster of the hard-boiled crime genre shifts gears to spin bittersweet and, at times, bizarre tales about bruised, sensitive souls in love and trouble.

In one of the 17 stories that make up this collection, a supporting character says: “People are so afraid of dying that they don’t even live the little bit of life they have.” She casually drops this gnomic observation as a way of breaking down a lead character’s resistance to smoking a cigarette. But her aphorism could apply to almost all the eponymous awkward Black men examined with dry wit and deep empathy by the versatile and prolific Mosley, who takes one of his occasional departures from detective fiction to illuminate the many ways Black men confound society’s expectations and even perplex themselves. There is, for instance, Rufus Coombs, the mailroom messenger in “Pet Fly,” who connects more easily with household pests than he does with the women who work in his building. Or Albert Roundhouse, of “Almost Alyce,” who loses the love of his life and falls into a welter of alcohol, vagrancy, and, ultimately, enlightenment. Perhaps most alienated of all is Michael Trey in “Between Storms,” who locks himself in his New York City apartment after being traumatized by a major storm and finds himself taken by the outside world as a prophet—not of doom, but, maybe, peace? Not all these awkward types are hapless or benign: The short, shy surgeon in “Cut, Cut, Cut” turns out to be something like a mad scientist out of H.G. Wells while “Showdown on the Hudson” is a saga about an authentic Black cowboy from Texas who’s not exactly a perfect fit for New York City but is soon compelled to do the right thing, Western-style. The tough-minded and tenderly observant Mosley style remains constant throughout these stories even as they display varied approaches from the gothic to the surreal.

The range and virtuosity of these stories make this Mosley’s most adventurous and, maybe, best book.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4956-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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