A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies
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A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  276 ratings  ·  48 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, 288 pages
Published January 20th 2004 by Harper Perennial (first published 2003)
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Roger DeBlanck
Murray’s collection of stories impresses with its fine writing, but the dense detail and lofty word choice also feel like showmanship at times. The high quality of refinement in many of the stories causes a problem 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, too perfect in their flawed states. The last story, “Acts of Memory, Wisdom of Man,” a lengthy 70 page discussion of th...more
Lies Van Rompaey
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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.
John Murray è australiano. Ha un nome tipicamente british, ma ho letto che ha sangue indiano: anche se non ho trovato sufficienti conferme, è un fatto che la...more
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.
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
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
Dec 19, 2007 Nathan rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
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.
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.
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.
Aug 17, 2009 Molly rated it 3 of 5 stars
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 10, 2012 Deb rated it 4 of 5 stars
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"...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")
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.
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.
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.
Jan 01, 2012 Geourska rated it 5 of 5 stars
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.
Apr 24, 2008 angela rated it 1 of 5 stars
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.
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.
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.
Mary Banken
Collection of stories with excellent writing, powerful themes, mind-stretching developments.
Nenia Campbell
You can read more of my reviews, faster, at my blog, The Armchair Librarian.

My mother gave me this book and since I (mostly) trust her judgement I didn't even bother reading the summary. Since it was sandwiched between two nonfiction tomes I assumed it was a collection of autobiographical essays about a man in the South Pacific researching about butterflies. You might think that sounds dreadfully boring, but honestly, after reading Rachel King's The Sound of Butterflies , I almost think I'd pref...more
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.
This short story collection offers not only thoughtful, literary stories, but also sets them in exotic locations. Because you’re interested in travel, the varied settings may appeal to you.
Beautifully written - each story contained a medical core - author is a doctor who has been to many third-world countries helping with children's medical programs. Write more books, Dr. Murray!
Murray's use of english language is very beautiful. It amased me how someone who is not an emigrant, I presume, could have understood so much about being born into an emigrant family.
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John Murray trained as a doctor and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he was a teaching-writing fellow. "The Hill Station" won the Prairie Lights Short Fiction Award, and the title story was selected by Joyce Carol Oates for the Best New American Voices 200...more
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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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