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Category Archive for 'Short Stories'

Poet-author Serge Pey grew up among the Republican partisans and anarchists who participated in the Spanish Civil War and were brutally defeated by Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s army in 1939. His family, like those of many other defeated fighters, escaped to France in the aftermath of the war, but were confined to internment camps within France as soon as they were captured. Author Pey, born in 1950, has obviously grown up knowing his family’s stories during the Spanish Civil War and in the internment camps in France, and his own values and beliefs in freedom have been molded by the culture within them. Here in this collection of often interconnected stories, he provides glimpses of a unique and powerful culture, the product of the lives lived by his family and their friends during and immediately after the Spanish Civil War. Filled with dramatic events, symbols, and hidden messages, this book is more than literary fiction. It is true literature, a collection of writings which inspire thoughtful reflection on life itself and share the ideas of its characters and author, a work which many readers will enjoy reading again and again and again.

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From the opening story of the same name, Up in the Main House entertains and enlightens the reader with stories of life in modern day Bangladesh which recall the tales of servants and their privileged employers from colonial England years ago. Here, however, author Nadeem Zaman focuses on the lives of domestic employees in the capital city of Dhaka, most of them working for families of wealth that they have worked for during all or most of their lives. As in the typical British “upstairs” and “downstairs” stories, the servants often have clearer visions of what really matters and closer relationships with each other than what the reader usually sees from the often absent “upstairs” owners of these houses and their friends. As the servants share their daily lives and do their daily work, they reveal their genuine emotions and insights into real life. Vividly described and more casual than the formal stories of upperclass British servants, the lives of these Bangladeshi workers and their values become far more intimate and genuinely real than what most readers will expect, their lives complicated primarily by their sense of position regarding their employers.

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In this collection of eleven short stories, author Joseph O’Neill focuses on imperfect and often uncommitted men as they live their usually unexciting and unrewarded lives. Their stories are, from a “story” point of view, as unexciting as their lives, yet they are also fun and often even funny. O’Neill, the son of an Irish father and Turkish mother who traveled and lived with their family all over the world, writes without the clever and quirky characteristics one usually associates with stereotyped “Irish writers,” presenting his stories instead with a “straight face” as he recreates his characters’ lives and leaves it up to the reader to form judgments and draw conclusions. Throughout the collection, O’Neill varies his literary style to fit the subject, and in “The Mustache in 2010,” his overtly academic tone for a subject like mustaches, as he traces the history of facial hair, serves as an amusing introduction to “the drama of Alexandre Dubuisson’s mustache.” Ultimately, the collection feels somewhat anti-climactic, lacking real, direct conflicts resulting in final resolutions. The male characters are weak and are often afraid or too easily distracted from the real issues to make independent moves.

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Jamel Brinkley, author of this extraordinary debut collection of stories, is much more than “a lucky man” in having this collection published by Graywolf, one of the most respected literary publishing houses in the country.  Brinkley’s literary talents and his insights into people – all kinds of people of various backgrounds and ages – kept me spellbound for the entire time I spent reading and rereading these stories.  I am not young, black, male, or the resident of a city, as these characters are.  I have not experienced (or do not remember) most of the kinds of events which Brinkley’s characters experience as normal – growing up in a broken home, having few resources for dealing with the turmoil of the teen years, struggling with responsibilities which would be challenging even for an adult, and living a life in which “betrayal on the cellular level” is complicated by surprising naivete regarding love and sex, expectations and reality, and issues of identity and reputation.  Still, as the young male characters of the nine stories here live their lives as well as they can, given their ages and limitations, they achieve a kind of universality which cannot help but touch the heart of the reader as s/he connects with these characters on a deeply personal level.

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It is not an overstatement to say that in his Last Stories, published posthumously, Irish author William Trevor has presented a collection of stories so powerful and so memorable that many readers will consider this to be his life’s masterpiece. Here he illustrates the observations he has made during his lifetime regarding how people face and adapt to three of life’s biggest challenges – love, memories of the past, and death, with all the emotional involvements that those subjects embrace. Love, as we see it here, can be pure passion, but it can also include friendship, simple acquaintance, admiration from afar, and hope for the future. Our memories, Trevor shows, are often affected by our conscience, sense of guilt, regret, secrets, dreams, and the amazing ability of humans to “edit” their memories to make them more palatable. Death, of course, can be sudden, long-awaited, accidental, or intentional. Frequently, these themes overlap. Despite the complex themes, Trevor’s stories remain firmly grounded in earthy narratives connecting very real characters, most of whom create their own worlds to help them deal with personal issues, and the stories here appear to have been arranged in order from least to most complex and from short to long. This extraordinary collection feels like a gift from William Trevor to his readers, ranking with the best of the best. If you like carefully wrought stories, do not miss these.

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