Essential to students of Latin American and world literature.


A welcome omnibus edition of short fiction by the writer widely considered the greatest to have come out of Brazil.

The grandson of freed mixed-race slaves on his father’s side and son of a white Azorean mother, Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (1839-1908) was a largely self-taught writer who worked in several genres, including drama and poetry, and much of whose prodigious output is not well-known outside his native Brazil. His stories are not always accurate gauges of what scholar Michael Wood calls “his evolution from a poorly educated child of impoverished parents to Brazil’s greatest writer and pillar of the establishment,” inasmuch as his stories, most of them set in Rio de Janeiro, are more the stuff of drawing rooms than favelas. This edition, comprising all seven collections published in Machado de Assis’ lifetime and including a dozen stories that have never before been translated into English, stands as a primary firsthand literary portrait of Brazil in its age of empire and especially of a city that was on its way from being a tropical backwater to its reinvention as a grand imperial metropolis. Close readers of Latin American literature will note in many of his stories early stirrings of magical realism, especially in their evocation of a musty past of nobles and antique surroundings: “Naturally, the mirror was very old, but you could still see the gilding, eaten away by time, a couple of carved dolphins in the top corners of the frame, a few bits of mother-of-pearl, and other such artistic flourishes.” Sometimes Machado de Assis reads like a European modernist (“On that day—sometime around 2222, I imagine—the paradox will take off its wings and put on the thick coat of common truth”), at others like the contemporary of Melville and Flaubert that he was (“I succumbed to the morbid pleasure of tormenting myself, for no good reason”). In whatever regard, this collection offers plenty of evidence for why he enjoys the reputation he does, a pioneer of moods and modes that include fables, thin satires, and even gothic romances.

Essential to students of Latin American and world literature.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-87140-496-1

Page Count: 992

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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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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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.


One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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