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A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  340 Ratings  ·  52 Reviews
These vivid and compelling tales, many set in Africa and Asia, are about immigrants and others facing change and dislocation. The science is never pedantic; indeed the language of biology and natural history is used to great lyrical effect. The stories are accomplished and seasoned, remarkably so given that this is the author’s first book. Murray is adept at holding togeth ...more
Paperback, 274 pages
Published January 20th 2004 by Harper Perennial (first published 2003)
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Jun 29, 2012 orsodimondo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: racconti, australia
Così è scritto, in Australia, sui cartelli per i turisti che fingono di segnare l’inizio e la fine dell’outback.
Ma l'outback non ha confini ben precisi, è una regione ideale più che geografica.
Ne sanno qualcosa i protagonisti di ‘Walkabout’, un film di quaranta anni fa, che vanno oltre il bush, nell’outback appunto.

”Walkabout” è un film di Nicolas Roeg del 1971. Dei tre interpreti quello che ha fatto più carriera è l’attore aborigeno, David Gulpilil.

John Murray è austral
Lovely prose. Complex and subtle.
2003 notebook: Rich, layered, similar theme throughout (the absent father, caught up with by the abandoned child, or the other way round). Draws on his medical experience, set around the world – India, Sri Lanka, Africa, U.S., Wales, and Sheffield even, glancingly; this is filled with a network of passing acquaintances, VSO, medics, journalists, scattered around. Joined by the bug. Cholera, disease, insects, diarrhoea feature. In the title story the narrator, a b
Roger DeBlanck
Jan 29, 2012 Roger DeBlanck rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Murray’s collection of stories has impressive moments, but the dense detail and lofty word choice resorts to showmanship at times. The sophisticated degree of refinement can cause problems with allowing the characters to feel genuine. As a trained doctor, Murray analyzes his complex characters with a clinical-like approach that often makes them wooden and too perfect in their flawed states. The last story, “Acts of Memory, Wisdom of Man,” generates the most power and emotion. It is a lengthy dis ...more
Feb 01, 2017 Lisa rated it really liked it
A wonderful collection of stories - beautifully written, full of really fascinating though flawed characters who are very easy to warm to.
Lies Van Rompaey
Jan 02, 2011 Lies Van Rompaey rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 19, 2015 Chani rated it it was amazing
What can I even say about this book? It was like reading a mirror of my own soul. It felt like time had reached out and shared with me a book I had written in the future. It was the oddest sensation to make my way from short story to story within this book and have every detail be something I loved and cherished. Every theme, something I have thought about or planned to write about. It was a ghost book that I will write in the future, as I still plan to explore (or have explored) all these topic ...more
Dec 19, 2007 Nathan rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Happy People
This is a really good book for people in therapy for depression. Oh wait, maybe it isn’t. Basically the theme seems to revolve around people who have crappy lives and crappy situations. The climax of each story comes when the character realizes that their life is meaningless, and it will never get any better, and that they should just accept that they will never accomplish anything. In the end, each character is like someone who has had a lobotomy. (Note to self: Avoid reading books with the wor ...more
Dec 15, 2009 Julia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: while-in-senegal
The review on the sleeve declares this collection "life affirming" and I don't think myself lazy when I say that covers it. These lovely stories carried me through the last two days of my residence in Dakar and are rightfully placed in the bin with other "books to travel with." John Murray plays and elaborates the same themes and characters while telling stories to a global village (Excuse: Geography). Must admit that the summit story reminded me of Dave Eggers' "Up the mountain slowly and down ...more
Aug 26, 2009 Sheila rated it liked it
I like short story collections because they're ready-made for reading before going to bed. I picked this up from a bookstore because it was on sale--I knew nothing about it or John Murray, the author. It was worth buying! Many of the stories take place in other countries--India, Rwanda. And many of them leave you with a lingering sense of regret--father-son relationships gone bad, not-so-successful immigrant stories. I did make the mistake of reading "Watson and the Shark" before bed--and then I ...more
Jul 27, 2008 Molly rated it really liked it
This collection of short stories is heartbreaking and unflinchingly honest. Murray is a doctor and many of his stories contain elements of the scientific (butterfly collecting, surgeons, biological research). His stories are set all over the world, from India to Cape May, New Jersey. Occasionally I found his voice a little detatched, but I suppose telling the story of a brutal rebel war from the perspective of a doctor is probably not the time to wax sentimental.
Dec 31, 2007 Mel rated it really liked it
John Murray was (probably still is) a physician, and this really shines through in his prose. His characters in these short stories are doctors or are related to doctors, which in itself is interesting. I didn't actually realize it when I picked this book up on a Library binge, but the stories are also all related to India in some way, and that's what I really like about them. I was surprised to find not only that Murray lives somewhere in Middle America, but also that he's whiter than I am.
Aug 17, 2009 Molly rated it liked it
Recommends it for: science/public health geeks who like fiction
Recommended to Molly by: monica
His writing is fabulous, the stories are compelling, and they focus on science/health in tropical countries. But they are all rather dark and difficult and mostly highlight relationships and people falling apart. There is an element of redemption in some that lightens the load a bit. But I might have given this more stars had I read these stories spaced out a bit. All at once, it was a bit much.
Jun 14, 2010 Lydia rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
John Murray's book was painful for me to read. Each story was sad and each had a life lesson. How will you conduct yourself when faced with your most important task, regardless of age? The last story was the most meaningful to me. A 14-year old boy tells on his older brother to keep his parents together. His older brother later dies in the Vietnam war. The younger brother pleases his parents and becomes a doctor, unsure of his decision.
Oct 27, 2008 Connie rated it liked it
This was a very good look into the minds of scientist/biologist/doctor types. They definitely think very differently from us average joes and these short stories get into the organization of their thoughts and actions. Enjoyable enough, but the last and longest story kind of lost me. I thought the shorter stories were better.
Mar 24, 2011 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Poignant. Very observant short stories about biology, medical staff, quarky every day charcters, world travel, human condition/suffering, heroes (and cowards)among us, family dynamics, and how some people choose to live in uncertain and less than perfection moments. Resonating. I will savor this book for a long time.
Jun 10, 2012 Deb rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I thoroughly enjoyed reading these 8 short stories. The language is rich and the themes are weighty. I would recommend reading only one in a sitting, savoring each in turn. Whether set in India, Iowa, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, or the Himalayas, these doctors, adventurers and carpenters, scientists and collectors of insects each attempt to find order in the chaos of their lives.
Mar 09, 2009 Lindsey rated it liked it
Overall I enjoyed John Murray's writing however each story is sadder than the next. The short stories themselves seem completely unrelated but are self contained and thus entertaining. The book reminds me strongly of The Interpreter of Maladies and is no less a depressing but entincing look into the lives of others.
Apr 24, 2011 Jen rated it it was amazing
A sophisticated, thoughtful collection of short stories. This author is also a doctor who worked overseas before he began writing. He writes bleak, tender stories about people trying to survive in third world countries overrun by militia, starvation, and without medical care. Often written from the perspective of foreign aid health care providers.
Jun 09, 2008 Simone rated it really liked it
This collection of stories offers a surprisingly thoughtful and gentle look at the human condition: From the perspective of someone with a biological background it is amazingly intuitive and refreshing. Murray really unfolds back the evolutionary emotional layers, so to speak, and gets right to the truth of his characters. I am smitten and hope for more works from this author very soon.
Aug 11, 2011 Ludmirska rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"...with his heavy red hands, he lifted that child up, lifted him into his arms and held him tight, told him to watch the stars, to keep his eyes on distant galaxies, because every point of light is a wish made a million years ago, and it was available to him, it was available."
(from one of the stories in this book, "all the rivers in the world")
Feb 04, 2008 Karen rated it it was ok
You would think this would be a perfect storm for me...a public health guy writing short stories at the Iowa Writers Workshop. And while I was entertained to run across a fun public health phenomenon in each story, I was underwhelmed. There are a few standouts though: A few short notes on tropical butterflies and Watson and the Shark were particularly moving.
Jan 01, 2012 Geourska rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who has worked overseas and lived in third world countries
This is a book that I find myself coming back to again and again. Each time I read the stories, I find new meaning. This book has become the equivalent of comfort food for me. It comes with me as I travel across the globe. I don't think they're the best short stories ever written, but they resonate with me.
Nov 20, 2012 Mitch rated it liked it
Shelves: just-fiction
My rating on this is lopsided.

I think John can write, and well, but I found too much tragedy nestled in his stories for my taste...and therefore wasn't inclined to remember them.

-Except for the last and longest one, which was quite good. It was somewhat predictable, also tragic, but contained elements closer to my heart and also touched on issues beyond the plotline.
Sep 20, 2011 Karin rated it it was amazing
Short stories written by a man who's a doctor by training and has worked in developing countries. Stories take place mostly in Africa and India. All well-written. For a long time, I was not a short-story lover, but this was one of the books that changed my mind.
Sep 22, 2013 Alaine rated it really liked it
A collection of 8 short stories taking place in different parts of the world. What links them is often science and medicine, or the chracters are people of the mdical world. I really liked these stories.
Aug 13, 2013 Dave rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Depressing, not a fun read. Laugh-out-loud weird in spots, mimics Woody Allen without meaning to. Author shows off his knowledge with long lists of examples of whatever topic is at hand. No imagination needed. Only story I liked was The Carpenter Who Looked Like A Boxer.
Uli Vogel
Aug 19, 2015 Uli Vogel rated it really liked it
I'm not really an avid reader of short stories. But this collection rather feels like novellas. The characters are round and the plots mostly complex. I do like the scientific and political context. Some of these stories belong into our times so painfully.
Very readable.
Aug 04, 2014 Jenny rated it really liked it
This was a very good collection of stories. I really liked the science and medicine theme that carries throughout the stories. At the same time, the stories were all very unique in terms of settings and characters.
Mar 11, 2008 angela rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
Recommended to angela by: Carli M
I really did not enjoy this book. I find it's hard for me to care about characters in a short story and this book was no exception. Many of the stories were boring and/or obvious. I don't recommend this one. If you can recommend a good collection of short stories, let me know.
Jul 23, 2007 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
not quite what i'd expected but enjoyable nonetheless.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

John Murray was born in Adelaide, South Australia, where he studied medicine. He has a Masters of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University, and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, where he was a teaching-writing fellow.

In 1992, he joined the Epidemic Intelligenc
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“When he heard the sounds of his mother, a mother he had never known, crying like an animal in the damp grass, Joseph whispered to his father. “Row,” he whispered, “row us away from here.” 1 likes
“He put his shoes over the red stone footprints and when he came to the last one on the path, fell to the ground and imagined being shot. The grass was cool and sharp on his cheek. Dying, he resolved, was like that—like lying down on a piece of very green grass, surrounded by flowering shrubs, and never getting up again.” 1 likes
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