These 25 short stories by Kurt Vonnegut were all written in the 1950's and early 1960's -- before the publication of his early noteworthy works like C...moreThese 25 short stories by Kurt Vonnegut were all written in the 1950's and early 1960's -- before the publication of his early noteworthy works like Cat's Cradle. With maybe just two or three exceptions, every story here is entertaining. They run the gamut from being weird futuristic stories (hinting at some of the themes that would later make him famous) to touching stories about human relationships and emotions. Definitely worth the read.(less)
Q: How did the Russian author commit suicide? A: He jumped off of one of his novels.
Russian author Leo Tolstoy is deservedly considered one of the worl...moreQ: How did the Russian author commit suicide? A: He jumped off of one of his novels.
Russian author Leo Tolstoy is deservedly considered one of the world's greatest writers. This collection of eleven of his short stories would be a great introduction to Tolstoy's amazing talent for those who might be put off or intimidated by his very lengthy but more famous works like Anna Karenina and War and Peace. Here is a short summary of all eleven stories. Obviously, spoilers follow:
The Prisoner of the Caucasus (4 stars)
A Russian officer is captured and held for ransom in a Tartar village. Knowing that no ransom will be forthcoming he escapes with his fat co-prisoner. They are re-captured after several hours and many miles, in large part due to his companion's physical failings and ineptitude. They are again imprisoned in the village, but this time they are kept shackled in a miserable hole in the ground. A young girl who has grown fond of the officer eventually helps him escape. This time his companion is too weak and ill to go along, and so this second escape attempt is successful – but just barely.
The Diary of a Madman (4 stars)
A man writes about his experiences with his mental illness. He suffers from some kind of anxiety disorder which seems to affect him only infrequently, most often when he finds himself in unfamilar lodgings. He also has a deep sense of empathy for the needy and unfortunate which sometimes brings scorn upon him when he refuses to take advantage of such people in order to increase his own standing. He fears death, but fears the futility and hopelessness of life even more, and he questions the existence of God despite his earnest attempts to exercise his faith. To me, only the anxiety syndrome seems anything like a mental illness. In fact, at the beginning of the story the man explains that the experts' diagnosis of his condition is inconclusive. His other fears, concerns, sympathies, and doubts all seem very normal – I know I feel the same way to some degree in all of these regards. Maybe Tolstoy is insinuating that it is society itself that is mentally ill -- that people who don't conform are actually normal and only seem mentally ill in a society that is itself mentally ill. This 12-page story was left unfinished at Tolstoy's death despite his having worked on it for 19 years.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich (4 stars)
Ivan Ilyich, a lawyer of some note, becomes ill with some form of terminal illness (cancer?) which presents itself as persistent and increasing pain in his abdomen and a disagreeable taste in his mouth. He loses weight and becomes increasingly unhealthy in appearance. He realizes that he is dying, as do others around him, yet no one admits it, much less openly talks about it. Death is the proverbial elephant in the room that everyone notices but no one wants to talk about. Ivan Ilyich is very distraught that he is dying. He suffers terribly – physically, mentally, and emotionally. He has experienced the death of others often in his life. In fact, several of his own children died, apparently without affecting him in the way or to the degree that we would think a loving father should be affected. Yet he is completely unprepared, surprised, and angry that death is coming for him. He questions the religious teachings concerning death and the hereafter, and he worries that his life was not what it should have been -- that maybe his attention to business and material possessions should not have been so important to him all his life. After intense suffering, he dies. His colleagues pay their respects. His family mourns and deals with the necessary arrangements. Then life continues.
The Kreutzer Sonata (3 stars)
A man on a train spends 70 pages telling another passenger the story of how he came to murder his wife. His story details how he enjoys women, but feels it is impossible to stay “in love” with one woman for a lifetime. His marriage started out fine, but soon all the troubles and concerns that always accompany marriages began to occur. He and his wife fought against each other in every way. Eventually, suspicions of infidelity arose, and the man is filled with rage and jealousy. Upon returning to his house unexpectedly late one night, he discovered the suspected adulterer there with his wife practicing music. In his rage, the man stabbed his wife to death. He spent nearly a year in prison awaiting trial, before being acquitted for family honor or some such absurdity.
The Devil (4 stars)
A young man (Evgeny) inherits his father's manor along with all its debts, of which there are many. He works hard to keep the business afloat, but his horniness leads him to frequently consort with a young married peasant woman whose husband is nearly always away. He eventually finds a truly devoted and respectable young woman to marry, and he remains very faithful to her. But the peasant girl keeps showing up in her day-to-day activities, and the young man finds it impossible to keep her out of his mind. She obviously would like to resume her past relationship with the young man, but he desperately want to be faithful despite feeling tempted far beyond his ability to resist. He comes to the conclusion that the girl must be the Devil, and that the only way the situation can ever be resolved is for either him or his wife or the peasant girl to die. Tolstoy provided two endings for this story. Both of them are extremely tragic, and both end on this note: “And indeed, if Evgeny was mentally ill when he committed his crime, then all people are just as mentally ill, and the most mentally ill are undoubtedly those who see signs of madness in others that they do not see in themselves.”
Master and Man (4 stars)
A wealthy, money-hungry landowner embarks on a winter journey with his hired hand to close a deal in a nearby town. They travel in a sleigh pulled by a trusty horse. The snow is deep and the road is difficult to follow. A snow storm makes things even worse and covers their tracks. They lose their way and end up in a different village than they planned on, but they set off again for their original destination only to go in a circle back to the same village. A kind-hearted villager offers them lodging for the night, but the man, in his desire to beat his competition to a great deal, refuses, and they continue on once again only to get hopelessly lost in the darkness and blowing snow. They realize they will have to wait out the night and likely perish, but the man determines to save himself and rides off on the horse, abandoning his companion. The weary horse simply returns to the sleigh and the freezing hired hand. The man then recognizes that he can save his companion with his own warmth. He lays on him and covers him with his fur coat. The man and the horse freeze to death, but the hired hand is saved. A good story which contrasts two different perspectives on one's looming death: the poor worker did not fear it, but the rich man did.
Father Sergius (4.5 stars)
A dashing, intelligent, and up-and-coming young officer rises in fame and social stature. Not having been born into the upper classes, he seeks to attain status by becoming engaged to a beautiful, upper-class young woman. But when she reveals to him that she had previously been the mistress to the Tsar himself, he becomes disgusted, and in his anguish he enters a monastery. His story spreads far and wide. Visitors flock to him despite his sincere attempts to remain a recluse. One visiting woman was determined to seduce him, but in his determination to prevent her from invoking sinful thoughts in his mind he chops off his finger with an axe – much to the horror of the woman, who thereafter became a nun. His fame increases when he develops a reputation for being a healer of the sick. In his later years, while blessing a young woman, he succumbs to sexual temptation. Tormented with guilt, he leaves the monastery incognito, visits his cousin whom he had cruelly teased in his childhood, and begs forgiveness from her.
After the Ball (3 stars)
An elderly man describes an experience of lost love from his youth. He becomes enchanted and smitten by a beautiful young woman at a dance. The feeling is obviously reciprocated. Near the end of the dance, the young man meets the young woman's father, a military officer, who dances tenderly with his daughter. Later that night, unable to sleep because of the romantic excitement he feels, he goes for a walk. He encounters a military exercise in progress in which a captured deserter is being forced to run (actually led through) a gauntlet. The young man sees that the officer in charge is his beloved's father, who on one occasion savagely assaults one of the soldiers in the gauntlet for striking too softly. Witnessing such a horrific spectacle doomed the relationship he was previously so excited about.
The Forged Coupon (3.5 stars)
A desperate young man forges the value of a bank note to gain a mere ten roubles. The forged note is then knowingly passed on to a few others. The effects and side-effects and after-effects of this dishonesty ripples around and through several people and communities, being the cause or possibly just a catalyst for changes in the behavior and attitudes of several people – often for the worse, but occasionally for the better, and sometimes both, one after the other. The interweaving of people and events is complicated and intricate, and the unfamiliar Russian names made keeping track of everyone more difficult than I was prepared for.
Alyosha the Pot (4 stars)
A rather simple-minded, but very diligent and optimistic boy is put into servitude to a rich merchant by his father. Because he consistently does his errands well and quickly, he is given ever more work to do. He bears all this with a simple and bright outlook. When he and the manor's cooking girl fall for each other his father forbids their marrying and even their romance. Being the loyal and dutiful son that he is, he complies. After experiencing a serious accident, he eventually succumbs to his injuries. Throughout his agonies he remains cheerful, convinced that the next world will be just as good as this one.
Hadji Murat (4 stars)
A mountaineer rebel leader (Hadji Murat) who has fought against the Russians for years decides to join forces with the Russians in order to fight against the supreme rebel leader. His only request of the Russians is that they bargain with the rebels in the trade of prisoners for his family members. The Russian bureaucracy balks at this. Eventually, in despair, Hadji Murat flees the Russians in a hopeless attempt to save his family or die trying. He and his few loyal aides are tracked down, and after a bloody last stand, they are all killed. (less)
Thirty-one stories by one of my favorite writers. Not a bad one in the bunch. Wonderful writing by a master.
The Traveler: The car of a traveling sales...moreThirty-one stories by one of my favorite writers. Not a bad one in the bunch. Wonderful writing by a master.
The Traveler: The car of a traveling salesman breaks down on a very cold night in a remote area. After unsuccessful attempts to restart his car and to keep warm by a fire, he finally starts walking. A mile or so down the road he comes to a farmhouse. No one answers the door, but a young boy finally emerges from a nearby shed. The boy explains that his grandfather has recently become comatose, so he is hitching up the sleigh to go for help. The boy has no parents, lives with his grandfather in a house that has no phone. The salesman offers to ride the sleigh to go for help while the boy tends to his grandfather.
Buglesong: A boy lives in a rural setting where he is the champion gopher trapper. He always saves or specially traps one live gopher to feed to his captive weasel. His mother worries about her son's education and encourages him to read a book of poetry, which he takes along on his rounds to read while he waits. The poetry is like music to the boy. It almost transports him to another place – specifically, the Bearpaw Mountains which he can see in the distance and where he dreams of going to.
Beyond the Glass Mountain: A successful young man returns to his college town several years after graduation. He feels a great sense of nostalgia being there and reflects on his memories – contrasting the carefree and energetic days of his youth with the fleeting and mundane passage of time as he has aged. He has returned to the town to visit one of his old friends who still lives there. The friend is an alcoholic, married, with one child. The purpose of the visit is to inform his friend of his wife's infidelity and to encourage him to leave her and his troublesome life behind. After visiting for a very short while with the couple, he concludes that he cannot carry out his original plan. He leaves, but not before he recognizes that his friend is well aware of the situation he is in.
The Berry Patch: A man on leave during WWII goes to a wild berry patch with his wife. They pick berries and talk about their life and how their recent separation has impacted them. They feel a certain security that their relationship will survive the upcoming trials.
The Women on the Wall: From the window near his desk a writer notices several women who daily congregate to await the mailman. He realizes that they are all wives of servicemen who are overseas. He determines to get to know them and their stories. He is received coldly and suspiciously by them, but he persists. In the following days one woman receives word that her husband has been killed. Then one day he witnesses a vicious fight between two of them. They both immediately cease fighting upon hearing that the mailman has arrived.
Balance His, Swing Yours: A man visiting a resort is irritated at a pompous, intruding Englishman, especially when he begins bragging about his tennis expertise. When the man challenges the Englishman to a match, the Englishman begins making excuses, but the man counters each excuse, and eventually the match begins. The man thrashes the Englishman, to the delight of a couple of young men the man had earlier befriended. Later, however, at the bar, the man feels somewhat unwelcome, out of place, and friendless.
Saw Gang: A 15-year-old boy works at a lumber mill with several other young men, all older than he. He is amazed at how hard and how eagerly they work, and he assumes it is because they all respect and feel indebted to the mills owner who works alongside them and who furnishes them with decent breaks and meals. The boy realizes that he is probably last in the pecking order at the mill.
Goin' to Town: A young farm boy is nearly overcome with excitement and anticipation because of his family's plans to go into town on the 4th of July to see the parade and participate in the festivities. However, when the time comes to finally depart, the old car will simply not start. The father goes to near heroic measures to try to start it – all to no avail. The boy is extremely disappointed, but eventually he accepts it.
The View from the Balcony: A group of mostly married college students all live somewhat communally in a building with a large common area and a balcony high above the ground which affords them a beautiful view of the surrounding area. One of the graduate students there gets cold feet and chokes during his final presentation. The “community” comes to his and his wife's aid. A party is thrown which involves a fairly free flow of alcohol. Two faculty members arrive at the party to encourage the despondent grad student. One of them actually picks a fight with a different student and seems intent on throwing him over the balcony before the fight is stopped by the other party goers. When the party finally ends, the other faculty member is unable to locate his wife. He suspects that she has run off with someone, so he goes looking for her in the riverine area below the balcony.
Volcano: An American visits Paricutin, the site of a volcano that suddenly rose out of a Mexican cornfield and completely played out its active phase in a mere few years. The author describes the desolation and eeriness as dust and ash blanket the area. The American observes the stubborn persistence of some of the inhabitants who attempt to remain and live their lives there.
Two Rivers: A continuation of the story Goin' To Town. The next morning the young boy learns that the car has been fixed and they will be going to the mountains. He is elated. As they travel he recalls vague memories of being in some mountains as a very small child, of falling and squishing blackberries in his hand, and of getting washed off in a river that is part warm and part cold. His dad thinks it's all the boy's wild imagination, but his mom realizes that he is actually remembering a specific trip they took to the mountains in Washington. She wonders why their memories are all so different from each others'.
Hostage: A young boy is held by police for a long time (days?) while he is interrogated by a detective and an insurance agent about how a fire started that destroyed the family (conveniently insured) shed. The boy insists that barn swallows attacked him and made him drop his candle when he was sent to the shed on a chore. Eventually, his mom shows up and confesses that she and her husband (the boy's step-dad) planned the whole thing knowing that the swallows would do what they did, but when the candle failed to ignite the shed, the step-dad went out and completed the job.
In the Twilight: A young boy hates the pig he is required to feed and care for and is excited for the scheduled butchering day. When it arrives he and his brother watch as their father shoots the pig between the eyes with a .22. The bullet fails to kill the pig, and it frantically runs and thrashes about until the dad can finally plug it a second time. This spectacle sickens the boy, he faints and is escorted into the house. When he returns to the butchering scene he is ridiculed by his brother and the other boys who have showed up. The dad shows the boys how to blow up the bladder like a bouncy ball, which the boys then kick and play with. The boy sickens again and vows that he will eat none of the pig's meat, but later in a kind of ritual the boy kicks the bladder-ball with all his might and triumphs in his victory over his sentimental emotions.
Butcher Bird: A rural family travels a few miles to visit their new closest neighbor, a British man and his American wife. The visiting family has different reactions to this new family. The woman is very impressed with the Brit's manners and politeness while the man is completely put off by everything about him, and he especially resents the way his wife seems to adore the Brit and his knowledge. The woman wants to attempt to plant some willow trees at their homestead as suggested by the Brit, but her husband rejects the idea out of hand. The couple's young son is disturbed by his parents' fighting, but he is overjoyed at the .22 rifle the Brit gifted to him.
The Double Corner: A couple with twin young boys bring the father's senile old mother home to live with them. The man is already quite convinced that things would be better for both his mother and for his family if she were in some form of nursing home. The wife, however, feels otherwise and makes every effort to care for the old woman and help her feel at home. When the old woman kills her cat by stashing it in her suitcase in order to hide it from her imaginary enemies, the mother finally recognizes the hopelessness and even the danger of keeping the old woman in her home.
The Colt: A colt is born with deformities in its front legs. The young boy who cares for the horses wants to utilize braces to nurse the colt to health despite his father's insistence that it is highly unlikely to be successful. After several weeks of dedicated care the colt showed little or no improvement. When the time comes for the family to move to their homestead for the summer, a family friend agrees to buy the colt from the boy for three dollars with the stipulation that he will faithfully care for the colt, and sell it back to the boy when the family returns – if the colt has healed. On the way to the homestead the family first drives to the dump to deliver keys to the caretaker. As they drive through the dump they see the skinned carcass of the colt – recognizable by its distinctive hoof patterns.
The Chink: A boy gets caught up in mob mentality with his friends on Halloween night and tip over the outhouse of a Chinese store owner who had earlier rebuked some of the kids. Because they had heard a whimper from inside the outhouse, they assumed it was the store owner, so they nailed the door shut. Later, the boy, feeling bad about what had happened, goes back and pries the door open to find the store owner's brother, with whom he was quite friendly, inside and unconscious. The boy summons the man's brother for help at the same time that he begins feeling very ill (this occurs during the great Spanish flu epidemic of 1918). He goes home and lies in a feverish semi-conscious state for over a week. When he finally recovers he learns that his Chinese friend is dead.
Chip off the Old Block: A 12-year-old boy is left home alone when his entire family is stricken with the Spanish flu in fall of 1918. He safeguards his dad's supply of medicinal whiskey from thieves and does a good job of holding down the fort. He even uses some of his spare time to write an adventurous short story. He hears of townsfolk dying from the epidemic and he worries about his family. One day he hears the sounds of celebration from the town. It's November 11. The war is over. He invites neighbors to his house to celebrate. The whiskey is passed around. During the festivities the boy's family arrives – they have been released from the hospital, all have survived. The father is angry and disappointed at the boy for being so wasteful with the hard-earned whiskey, but eventually and with the help of the boy's mother, he comes around to realize what a good boy he has been.
The Sweetness of the Twisted Apples: An artist and his wife travel through rural Vermont looking for landscapes to paint. They encounter a nearly abandoned farm area where a very few hangers-on still live. They visit for a short while with a woman and her waif-like adult daughter who tell them about the road ahead which becomes impassable due to overgrowth not far ahead. The girl and her mom repeatedly refer to the past in terms of when the girl was “goin' out.” Leaving the two women the couple drives ahead and find a beautiful scene to paint with a large orchard of old untended apple trees. While the man paints, the woman explores and then begins to gather apples to take home because, despite their stunted size, they taste wonderful. While hauling apples, the woman is surprised to see the farm girl there. The two of them talk a little. The woman asks the girl about what it is like to live in such a seemingly haunted place. The girl responds that it isn't haunted, and that she used to come up to this area all the time when she was “goin' out.”
The Blue-Winged Teal: A man returns to his father's bar carrying several ducks he has just recently shot. His father and the low-life employees are impressed and plan a feast for the next day. The man dislikes his father for a variety of reasons and intends to tell him that he is leaving him. The feast goes well and the man eventually tells his dad his feelings in a cordial way.
Pop Goes the Alley Cat: A photographer accompanies a social worker to some poverty-stricken neighborhood to get some pictures for an upcoming article. A black youth from the area also accompanies them. When the young man is sent in the woman's car on an errand he fails to return and and photographer realizes that one of his cameras is missing. He assumes the young man took it and feels disdain for him. The social worker and the photographer discuss the merits of forgiveness and kindness and if or when we should give up on someone.
Maiden in a Tower: A man returns to Salt Lake City to see to the funeral arrangements of his aunt. The funeral home just happens to be in the same building in which he courted a vivacious young woman more than 25 years earlier. He cares almost nothing about his aunt, but is determined to see the place of his sexual coming of age. The undertaker permits him to visit the room in a tower where a particularly memorable experience took place, even though the corpse of a woman is laid out in the room. The man nostalgically reminisces about the past and wonders what became of the woman.
Impasse: A couple vacations in Europe with their grown, but angry and ill-mannered, daughter who seems to want to argue and fight about everything. The father recognizes that his daughter is unattractive and has limited potential when it comes to achieving her goals, especially social goals. The girl obviously knows this fact too.
The Volunteer: An intelligent and hard-working young boy volunteers to build a model Roman camp structure for his teacher. His father has turned the family house into a speakeasy where customers come to drink and socialize without fear of the law. The boy and his mother really hate what goes on in the house.
A Field Guide to the Western Birds: A writer goes to a party which a friend of his is throwing in order to showcase a talented piano player she has discovered. The writer despises the arrogant and self-centered manner of the musician, and he is less than impressed by his musical abilities as well.
Something Spurious from the Mindanao Deep: A journalist in the Philipines observes that his friend is being manipulated by a woman who wants him to commit to her. The woman goes so far as to take a lethal dosage of pills in order to get his attention.
Genesis: A newly-hired cowboy from England struggles to fit in and cope with the rigors of cattle driving in Saskatchewan during the freezing fall and winter. The group is forced to seek shelter several miles distant during a terribly cold and windy snowstorm in which the Englishman saves the life of one of the other cowhands.
The Wolfer: A Canadian Mountie tracks the wolf trapper from the previous story (Genesis) because he fears the trapper may be lost and stranded on the bitter cold plains. He finds the man's dead hound – shot through the head in what he speculates was an accident of mistaken identity – but he never finds the trapper, who is never seen or heard of again.
Carrion Spring: In the Spring following the terrible winter of 1905 the wife (Molly) of the foreman (Ray) from the story Genesis has determined to leave the wild prairie for her home and parents, but Ray is staying regardless, and he wishes she would too. They set off in the wagon together and pass several stinking masses of winter-killed cattle. They encounter the son of the wolfer who is busy digging out a den of coyote mom and pups. Ray stops to help, and together they slaughter the mother coyote and one of the two pups. Molly rescues the second pup and insists on saving and raising it. As Ray and Molly talk while taking in the beautiful expanse of the prairie Molly eventually decides that she could stay.
He Who Spits at the Sky: A journalist photographer goes to a wealthy lawyer's house where a party is being held celebrating the release of some Mexicans who evidently were unjustly imprisoned. The journalist witnesses one of the Mexicans violently assault his girlfriend, now in need of quick medical attention. The Mexican and celebrating lawyers, in order to protect their cause against possible bad publicity, insist that the girl was injured in a fall. The journalist, who actually saw it, insists otherwise, and points out that one other person witnessed it also – one of the other former prisoners, who subsequently lies for his own self interest.
The City of the Living: A divorced man tends his sick son in Egypt. The boy's typhoid is life-threatening and the man is very anxious and worried, especially when he notices that despite his dedicated adminstering of antibiotics, the fever persists. When the fever finally drops and the boy is obviously on the road to recovery the man rejoices. Later he ponders the efficacy of various forms of prayers – especially his own subtle personal prayers compared to the more public prayers of the millions of Muslims in the area.(less)
What a great collection of stories. Some common themes include: the occult, demons, lovers, cheaters, Judaism, pious Jews, secular Jews, doubting Jews...moreWhat a great collection of stories. Some common themes include: the occult, demons, lovers, cheaters, Judaism, pious Jews, secular Jews, doubting Jews, outcast Jews, disenfranchized and disenchanted Jews, and Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, Nazism, war, immigration, and cultural upheaval.
One very memorable passage that I will always remember is from the story Brother Beetle:
Suddenly I saw her. She glanced around, looking for someone, as if she had an appointment. I noticed everything at once: the dyed hair, the bags under her eyes, the rouge on her cheeks. One thing only had remained unchanged – her slim figure. We embraced and uttered the same lie: “You haven't changed.” And when she sat down at my table, the difference between what she had been then and what she was now began to disappear, as if some hidden power were quickly retouching her face to the image which had remained in my memory.
Gimpel the Fool : Because a young man refuses to acknowledge his fellow villagers as sometime pranksters, liars, and deceivers he routinely gets taken advantage of, especially by his wife who bears multiple children – none of them his.
The Gentleman from Cracow : A poverty stricken village is blessed with the arrival of a rich man who regales everyone with worldly goods. Only the rabbi suspects any malevolence. On the night of a festive and lavish ball the man's demonic nature is made manifest and the entire village nearly perishes as a result – saved only by the rabbi's selfless offering of himself as a scapegoat.
The Little Shoemakers : A family has a long history of being the shoemakers for a village. But the current shoemaker's many sons all emigrate to the U.S., leaving the widowed father alone with his trade which he carries on into very old age. But when his Jewish village is destroyed during the Nazi invasion of Poland, he too, with help from his American children, finally emigrates. During his life and especially in his travels he imagines himself as various characters from the scriptures, as they too experienced similar hardships and wonders.
Joy : A rabbi struggles with his faith and eventually loses it after the deaths of several of his children. He suffers from depression, but eventually he recovers his faith and later dies satisfied.
The Unseen : Narrated by the Evil One. When a well-to-do man succumbs to temptation, he divorces and abandons his wife in order to run off with their servant girl. The servant girl then ditches him after taking all his money. In desperation and after a year of living like the prodigal son, he returns to his wife, now re-married, who takes pity on him and hides him in the attic of a ruined cabin on their property where he becomes one “who sees without being seen.”
The Spinoza of Market Street : A highly educated and eccentric old bachelor obsesses about the philosopher Spinoza. He becomes an outcast for his perceived heretical views. He is broke and seriously ailing when WWII breaks out and his town (Warsaw) is threatened. His next door neighbor is a hideous old maid who discovers him near death in his room. She nurses him back to health and they get married, much to the amusement of the townfolk.
The Destruction of Kreshev : Narrated by “The Evil One.” The intellectual daughter of the richest family in a poor town chooses to marry a physically deficient man for his brillian mental abilities. The man becomes depraved because of his intellect and manipulates his wife into having an affair with the young, handsome, and promiscuous coachman of her father.
Taibele and her Demon : A woman is abandoned by her husband because the only children she has borne all died in infancy. A widowed recluse in the town hatches a plan when he overhears her telling some other women a story of a demon who visits women at night. He pretends to be such a demon when he enters her room late at night, and he convinces her to be intimate with him. He visits her twice a week for an extended period of time. The woman is convinced he is a real demon, but she truly enjoys and appreciates his visits which come to an abrupt end when the man becomes ill and dies. The woman never finds out who her demon really was.
Alone : A man wishes for a little solitude while staying at a busy hotel in Miami. The next morning he learns that the hotel is bankrupt and everyone is being forced out. He finds a cheap hotel in which he is the only tenant and the only employee an ugly hunchbacked Cuban woman who gives the man the creeps.
The Last Demon : A demon fails in his assignment to tempt a rabbi.
Yentl the Yeshiva Boy : When a scholarly girl, Yentl, is orphaned she determines to continue her education by dressing as a boy and enrolling in a yeshiva.
Zeidlus the Pope : A demon is assigned, for the second time, to tempt a very righteous rabbi and decides to use the man's only flaw, vanity, against him. After becoming convinced that the Jews will never honor one of their own, he converts to Christianity, where he expects to rise to great prominence, even perhaps to become Pope. He fails.
Short Friday : A poor and inept tailor is married to beautiful and able woman. They both are very diligent in their religious duties, especially in the observance of the Sabbath. One winter evening, after leaving the fire going with the flue closed after their Sabbath meal, they are overtaken by fumes.
The Séance : A man who fled Europe prior to WWII seeks to reunite with his loved ones, especially his mistress, who died in the Holocaust by consorting with a medium. He recognizes that the medium is a fraud. But in a way he feels that he is a fraud too, and he's aging and ailing.
The Slaughterer : A rabbi wannabe is instead assigned to be the town slaughterer, much to his dismay as he loves all life. He consoles himself by the proverb that no one should have more compassion than God. But the constant slaughtering of innocent animals finally drives him insane.
The Dead Fiddler : A strange but pretty girl becomes possessed of two demons, one a male the other a female. The father seeks rabbinical help from surrounding cities in attempts to exorcise the demons.
Henne Fire : A malevolent woman with fiery hair and fiery eyes torments the town. Her husband abandons her after displaying more patience than anyone else can fathom. Her daughters all flee. One night her house catches fire. It becomes apparent that she herself is the source of the fires that ignite around her. The town's citizens attempt to take care of her and provide for her, but one day her blackened fire-consumed skeleton is disovered sitting in the barely scorched chair of her abode.
The Letter Writer : A single middle-aged editor for a Yiddish periodical in New York is in ailing health. While bedridden his furnace quits working and his room freezes. His death is averted only by the fotuitous arrival of one of his female correspondents who nurses him back to health and even cares for a mouse the man had adopted.
A Friend of Kafka : The narrator, a writer, tells about an eccentric acquantance who habitually name drops – especially the name of Franz Kafka whom he supposedly had been good friends with.
The Cafeteria : The narrator, a writer, mingles with others, mostly Jews, at a cafeteria in New York. They are all Holocaust survivors or relatives of its victims. A young woman who frequents the cafeteria is pleased to meet the narrator, her favorite author. She is haunted by memories of the Holocaust. When the cafeteria burns down the woman claims that she saw Hitler there.
The Joke : The friend of the narrator deceives a European author of some note into believing that a wealthy young woman desires correspondence with him and perhaps a relationship also. When the man unexpectedly arrives in New York to meet the woman the narrator gets pulled into a coverup scheme.
Powers : A man tells a reporter about his supernatural powers. He can often tell things that will happen in the future and read other people's minds. His powers help him attract many women.
Something Is There : A rabbi in a small Polish village loses his faith after questioning why there is so much suffering in the world. He journeys to Warsaw to pursue the life of Gentiles. He is shocked at what he finds there and feels completely out of place. He realizes that the heretics and Gentiles have no better answers than the Jews.
A Crown of Feathers : An orphan girl is raised by her wealthy grandparents who die before they can get her married off. She hears their voices one night giving her conflicting advice. The grandmother, who had taught her to be extremely picky, tells her that the Gentiles have the truth. The grandfather tells her to marry the man he had lined up for her before he died. The grandmother gives her a sign in the form of a crown of feathers embedded within her pillow. So, the girl follows her grandmother's advice – and suffers bitterly as a result. But her later attempt to repent and follow her grandfather's advice turns out to be even more cruel for her.
A Day in Coney Island : A Polish refugee is down on his luck. Out of money and being threatened with deportation right as Hitler is planning his invasion of Poland.
The Cabalist of East Broadway : The narrator tells about an acquantance, also a writer, who was very much down on his luck and struggling. After a few years of no contact with him, the narrator happens to run into him in Israel where he had become somewhat of a celebrity – a completely changed person. Years later, the narrator again finds him in bad shape back in America.
A Quotation from Klopstock : A man confesses his many love affairs, especially one with a much older woman over the course of many years. She became very old and decrepit while he maintained his youthfulness. Yet on rare occasions he still would meet up with her. One night, at his request, she leaves her old folks home to spend the night with him. In the morning the man realizes that she has died.
A Dance and a Hop : Three sisters live out their lives unable or unwilling to get married. There is evidence of a demon living in the chimney of their house.
Grandfather and Grandson : An extremely devout orthodox Jew has lived his long life in a small Jewish village, sheltered from the world. His wife is dead. His children have died. One grandson is alive, but he, like his parents, is no longer observant. The man is just waiting to die, but one day his grandson comes to stay with him. He tells his grandfather of science and politics and revolution. The grandson is some kind of a leader in a revolutionary group which is planning an uprising.
Old Love : An old rich miserly Jew lives alone in Miami. He has survived three wives and three children. His only grandchild does not visit him. One day he meets his new neighbor – a recently widowed well-to-do woman, and he experiences joy and tragedy.
The Admirer : A writer accepts an admiring female fan into his apartment. They have some common ancestry and roots back in Poland. The woman becomes very flirtatious and the man welcomes and even encourages her. He then gets phone calls from the woman's husband and mother informing him that she is quite crazy. The man has a difficult time extricating himself from the difficult situation.
The Yearning Heifer : A poorly paid writer temporarily abandons his Manhattan residence to spend a few days on a farm in upstate New York. When he get there a cow continously bellows for want of a bull or because it misses its former acquantances. The farmer man is friendly but his wife and daughter are not. The farmer returns the homesick cow to its former owner for a full refund.
A Tale of Two Sisters : After the war n Europe a man encounters a woman who is determined to enter Russia to find her sister. Despite the dangers the man accompanies her and they miraculously find the sister. They then miraculously travel all the way back to Paris where they live together as a threesome.
Three Encounters : A young man rebels against his parents' Jewish traditions and religion. When he returns to his home after a failed attempt at becoming independent he scandalously encounters a young woman who is engaged. Seeing how she is not happy with the situation she is in, the young man tells her of the outside world. She is smitten with these ideas and, it seems, with the young man. A few years later the same woman finds him in Warsaw. She had left her family and taken up with a (supposedly) divorced American who impregnated and abandoned her. Years later in New York City the woman finds him again.
Passions : A passionately religious but poor man is obsessed with learning all he can about the Holy Land. One day he simply disappears without a trace. Five years later he shows up again. He walked all the way to Jerusalem, and sailed back. Another poor shoemaker is equally obsessed with religious matters. After a mistake is made and he is put in a position of prominence for a festivity, a rabbi protests by refusing to recognize his position.
The Psychic Journey : While feeding pigeons a man meets a woman with similar interests. She claims all sorts of psychic powers and convinces him to be the guide for her group of travelers to Israel.
Brother Beetle : While visiting Israel, a man encounters an old flame from Poland whom he has not seen since before the war and before the Holocaust. He is amazed that even though she has changed (aged) considerably all the differences disappeared a short while after their re-acquaintance. They enjoy a tryst at her apartment that ends very awkwardly.
The Betrayer of Israel : A man is brought before the rabbi for being married to four women. He is ordered to divorce all but his original wife and provide support for his children. He ends up slipping away with the youngest and prettiest of the four.
The Manuscript : A woman returns to Nazi-occupied Warsaw in order to retrieve her lover's treasured manuscript. After enduring unimaginable terrors and dangers, she returns to her lover with his manuscript only to find him in bed with another woman. She promptly tosses the manuscript in the stove.
The Power of Darkness : A woman is dying even though the doctors say she is fine. She wants her sister to marry her husband after she is gone and is even sewing her wedding gown from her sick bed. After she dies, the two do get married, but they quickly become secularized. They are unable to enjoy nights together because the ghost of the sister always enters the bed between them.
The Bus : On a bus tour through Spain the narrator is drawn to a rich Turkish widow with no small help from the widow's fourteen-year-old son who longs to immigrate to America.
A Night in the Poorhouse : Two incapacitated former criminals live out their lives in the poorhouse. At night before falling asleep they tell stories and discuss the reality (or not) of God.
Escape from Civilization : A man is told by a doctor to seek living quarters near the ocean. He goes to Sea Gate (evidently near Coney Island). He meets a woman there who has a room to rent. He hits it off real well with her.
Vanvild Kava : A strange man puts on great airs about his literary genius, which others in the literary community find annoying and amusing. When he is given a great opportunity to write a defining article on Yiddish literature he produces a large document which starts out brilliantly then delves into completely unrelated topics about race horses. The man never offers an explanation.
The Reencounter : A doctor gets an anonymous call telling him that an old flame he had not seen in years had died. When he goes to the funeral home, several hours early, he views his deceased friend alone until another woman enters whom he assumes to be the woman's sister. When she informs him that she is actually the deceased woman herself (in spirit form) and that he also is deceased, they embark on an ephemeral tour together as two loving lost spirits.
Moon and Madness : Four rabbinical scholars discuss the benefits and dangers of charity in a study house while two beggars listen. The stories involve cases where certain individuals were so overtly and foolishly forgiving that they brought death and destruction upon themselves, their family, and community.(less)
Okay, I read this short novella (60 pages or so) close to 40 years ago. I don't remember much about it, but I remember that it scared me in a way that...moreOkay, I read this short novella (60 pages or so) close to 40 years ago. I don't remember much about it, but I remember that it scared me in a way that no other compilation of writing has ever done since. I need to read it again and see if it affects me as a 53 year old the same as it did me as a 14 year old.
June 30, 2012 update: I just read this again. I read the first chapter out loud to my son one night as we camped on a backpacking trip in the Uinta Mountains. It's a very eerie story, very well written, and scary as anything I've ever read. (less)
I very much enjoyed these stories. At first I thought they were very boring - because not much happens. But they really grew on me the more I read. Li...moreI very much enjoyed these stories. At first I thought they were very boring - because not much happens. But they really grew on me the more I read. Like any collection of short stories, some are better than others. At least 75% of these are excellent. My favorites: The Lady With the Little Dog, The House With the Mezzanine, Ward No. 6, Sleepy, The Black Monk, The Fiancee, The Bishop, The Huntsman, The Student. These are all 5-star short stories.
Death of a Clerk: A man sneezes at a theater and accidentally sprays the man seated in front. The man makes several attempts, over several days, to apologize and obtain forgiveness, but never feels that forgiveness has been satisfactorily granted. The man who was sprayed finally loses his temper and angrily tells the man to leave him alone. He promptly goes home -- and dies.
Small Fry: During Easter festivities a man sits around in his flat lamenting his lot in life, angry at his superior who has denied him a promotion to a higher-paying job. He notices a cockroach on his table, which he grabs and tosses into the lamp fire. He then feels much better.
The Huntsman: While searching for game, a hired hunter encounters a peasant woman from a group of nearby field laborers. They talk, and it is revealed that she is his estranged wife. She bemoans the fact that he never comes by to visit. He explains that he was deceived into marrying her in the first place, and besides, he is too fondly attached to his free life as a huntsman to settle down. Before he departs, he gives the woman a ruble. The woman watches him until he is completely out of view.
The Malefactor: An uneducated peasant is brought before a magistrate for the crime of stealing a nut from the railroad track. The peasant explains that such pilfered nuts are used as sinkers for fishing, but he is quite incapable of comprehending how one missing nut could cause any harm. He is sentenced to hard labor as he decries the injustice of it all.
Panikhida: A man is chastised by his Priest for petitioning a special prayer for his dead daughter "the harlot." The man recalls from the scriptures how Jesus forgave the prostitute, so he sees nothing wrong with his "harlot" reference, even though the Priest is livid.
Anyuta: A poor girl survives by living with and accommodating a medical student (as she has done with a few previous students). Her current roommate treats her poorly and disrespectfully. He has come to the conclusion that since he will soon be moving on to a life of higher status he will have to get rid of this girl; so, he might as well get rid of her now. He tells her to leave, but then has a slight change of heart and tells her she doesn't have to go if she doesn't want to. So she stays.
Easter Night: A man takes a ferry across a river to an Easter celebration. The ferryman is a monk who is distraught at the recent, untimely death of a fellow monk who was dear to him and who was especially talented at writing hymnal type praises. After the celebration the man returns on the ferry with the same ferryman, who now gazes at a female passenger whose face (the man supposes) reminds the ferryman of his departed friend.
Vanka: An orphan indentured servant boy writes a letter to his grandfather. This grandfather is not a good character and has apparently abandoned the boy. In the letter the boy begs his grandfather to please rescue him from the terrible situation he is in. The letter will never make it to his grandfather.
Sleepy: A much abused servant girl is denied adequate sleep because she is expected to care for her master's baby who is sick and in need of attention throughout the night. She dozes and dreams of sleep but only for mere moments. In her sleep-deprived state she kills the crying baby so that she can finally rest.
A Boring Story: A science professor who seems to know that he is dying, laments the inadequacies in his life and his family. The only person with whom he seems to relate well is a young woman who he had helped raise after the death of her parents.
Gusev: A ship carries a contingent of soldiers home to Russia. The soldier Gusev is confined to the ship's sick bay. He visits with some of the other sick soldiers, some of whom die. Eventually, Gusev also dies and is buried at sea. As his body sinks a shark rips open the burial sack.
Peasant Women: A traveler stops at an inn and converses with the innkeeper's family. He explains that the boy traveling with him is the orphaned son of his former neighbors. The man had an affair with the boy's mother while the father was consigned to the army. The mother killed her husband upon his return from the army. She later dies in prison. One of the innkeeper's daughter-in-law, who heard most of the traveler's story, is having an illicit affair also. She openly discusses with her sister-in-law the idea of killing her own husband.
The Fidget: A woman marries a good, hard-working, intelligent man who does not share her interest in hobnobbing with high society. Her highfalutin friends have little regard for her husband. She has an affair with a well-known painter who eventually gets bored with her. She regrets what she has done, but her husband dies before she can repair their relationship.
In Exile: A long-time exile tries, mostly unsuccessfully, to convince other exiles that their life in Siberia can be very satisfactory if they just quit worrying about home and family and friends and warmth and other conveniences.
Ward No. 6: A mental ward houses an intelligent and educated but paranoid man. Because the appointed doctor appreciates conversing and debating with this mentally ill man more than with the dull people of the village, his friends assume that he must be mentally ill himself, so they contrive a way to cure him. Their ill-conceived and seemingly selfish plan fails miserably, and the doctor becomes destitute and miserable and probably actually insane -- at which point his friends trick him and lock him up in the mental ward. He dies within a day.
The Black Monk: A well-respected but stressed man visits his former foster father. He falls in love with the daughter and takes a keen interest in the affairs of the father's immaculate orchards. He begins having visions of a monk all dressed in black who flatters him by telling him what a great and intelligent person he is. At first this makes him very happy. But shortly after he marries the daughter it becomes obvious that he is very seriously disturbed. Everything falls apart for him and his wife and her father. Just before he dies the monk returns to tell him that he should have believed the good things he had been told.
Rothchild's Fiddle: A cranky old coffin maker plays a mean fiddle for the local band. He despises and persecutes, for no particular reason, the Jew Rothchild who plays the flute in the band. His wife dies and he cuts every corner to get her buried. He becomes ill. When he realizes that he is dying he bequeaths his fiddle to Rothchild. The Jew treasures the gift.
The Student: A seminary student travels by foot through the dreary countryside. He stumbles upon two widows who are toiling around a fire. He stops to warm himself up and regales the women with the Bible story about Peter the Apostle who denied Christ three times before the cock crowed.
Anna on the Neck: A young woman reluctantly marries a middle-aged man because he is wealthy. She hopes he will use his wealth to help out her father and brothers who are experiencing difficult times, but the man is very stingy with his money. At a prestigious ball the young woman is so beautiful and graceful that all the powerful men are enchanted by her. This gives her the self esteem and authority to put her husband in his deserved place.
The House with the Mezzanine: A young, idealistic, but non-industrious artist meets and falls in love with a young girl near where he lives. He has ideological differences with the girl's older sister. As a result, the older sister insists that the two love birds stay away from each other. The young man never sees her again, but he never forgets her. Years later he still pines for her. He wonders if she still thinks about him and if they will ever meet again.
The Man in a Case: Two hunters converse before bed time. One, a high school teacher, tells the story of a fellow teacher (of Greek) who was quite the social misfit -- constantly donning galoshes and an umbrella in every type of weather. Everything that veered from what he considered normal caused him stress and concern. He almost became engaged to the sister of a fellow teacher until one day when he saw her and her brother riding bicycles at a school function. This distressed him so badly that he had a confrontation with the teacher about it, and upon leaving the confrontation he had an awkward and embarrassing stumble that was witnessed by the sister. He shut himself up after that and died within a month. The man listening to the story considers how in many ways we might all be a lot like this man. He begins to tell a story to illustrate his point, but they both decide it is time to go to sleep.
Gooseberries: The same two hunters from the previous story are hunting the next day when they get caught in the rain and take refuge at the home of nearby friend. The second man then gets his chance to tell his story. His brother had a desk job but always yearned for a home in the countryside. His ideal place always included gooseberry bushes. Eventually, he got his wish, but he just became fat and idle. He obviously wasn't happy. The storyteller then philosophizes about the despair of life -- that it's impossible to be happy because so much bad happens, if not to you then to so many others. We should just try to do our best and to do good. That's the best we can do.
A Medical Case: A doctor is called out to a factory (with its accompanying company "town") far out in the countryside. The doctor loathes the ignorant and uneducated people and the deplorable conditions of such work environments. He administers to the adult daughter heiress of the factory and converses mostly with the governess. The girl suffers from what seems to be a severe case of nerves or anxiety. The doctor tells her she should get away from the factory. The next day she is much improved.
The Darling: A much-loved girl easily falls in love and marries, twice. Both of her husbands die after just a few short years of marriage. She has an affair, possibly begun before the death of her first husband, with a man who is separated from his disturbed wife. This man and his young son eventually live at the woman's house. She adores the man's son. In all the relationships in which this woman gets involved she consistently adopts the opinions, thoughts, and philosophies of the other. She seems to not be able to think for herself, and her mind is quite barren when she is alone.
On Official Business: A doctor and a coroner are dispatched to a distant community on official government business to investigate and make a ruling on a suspected suicide. The weather is bad, the investigation gets delayed. They spend the evening, the night, and the next day and night at the festive home of a community leader. During all this time the coroner philosophizes about suicide, life in general, and life in small agrarian communities.
The Lady With the Little Dog: A middle-aged, unhappily married philanderer, while vacationing in Yalta, meets an unhappily married young woman. They fall in love, probably the first time for both of them. The pair separate, as society obliges them, and they go back to their spouses, but they secretly meet once or twice a year, and their yearning for each other grows stronger. The man wonders why, in his older age, and out of so many women he has known, this one has been the only one able to make him feel true love. They both wonder how they can endure their illicit and secretive love affair.
At Christmas Time: An old illiterate couple in a remote village desperately miss their daughter who left many years ago with her new husband and has not been heard from since. They pay a local, barely literate drunk to write a letter to her. Taking advantage of the old couple, the man simply writes gibberish. A week later the daughter receives the letter. She pretends to her young children that it tells of wonderful, exciting happenings back at their grandparents' place. It is revealed that the woman's husband has been secretly keeping his wife's letters from being delivered to her parents.
In the Ravine: In a small town off the beaten path one of the wealthier families suffer because of greed and jealousy. It comes to a head when one son is convicted of counterfeiting and sentenced to a long term of hard labor. The father then tries to transfer his wealth to the infant son of his other son. This infuriates the childless wife of the convicted son, so she kills the baby by pouring boiling water on him.
The Bishop: A bishop is not feeling well, but he performs all his never-ending duties just the same. His mother comes to visit him. He is disturbed that everyone, even his mother, treats him like a bishop and not like a regular human being. His illness eventually does him in and he is soon replaced and forgotten.
The Fiancee: Nadya, a young woman from a wealthy family is engaged to the son of an even wealthier family. She has come to realize that she doesn't really love her fiance and generally feels dissatisfied with the meaninglessness of her life. Sasha, a sort of foster brother or uncle is visiting the family. He points out to Nadya how the wealthy people don't work or contribute to society and how they mistreat everyone of a lower social stature than themselves. Nadya decides to flee the situation. Sasha helps her get away. Her family is heart-broken, but a year later they have reconciled, even though Nadya's family has lost a lot of its former social status. While visiting her family Nadya learns that Sasha has died. (less)
Annie Proulx won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Shipping News, so I was interested in getting a taste of her writing. Of course, because of the...moreAnnie Proulx won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Shipping News, so I was interested in getting a taste of her writing. Of course, because of the notoriety of the movie Brokeback Mountain, I also knew that she wrote that short story among many others. Close Range is a collection of short stories that are all set in rural Wyoming (is there any other kind of Wyoming?).
For the most part I enjoyed the stories -- some more so than others, Brokeback Mountain being one of the best. One of the more memorable stories, mostly because of its uniqueness, consisted of only three sentences -- two long ones and one very short one. Most of the other stories were quite intertwined in time and place and often nvolved characters that seemed to sometimes play inconsequential roles. This led me to have a little more difficulty reading than I would have liked. But overall, a fun and interesting set of short stories.(less)
I had heard that Alice Munro was an exceptional writer, and being in the mood for short stories (for which she is especially acclaimed) I decided to r...moreI had heard that Alice Munro was an exceptional writer, and being in the mood for short stories (for which she is especially acclaimed) I decided to read some of her works.
I only read three stories from this collection: "Carried Away", "Friend of My Youth", and "Moons of Jupiter." All were well written and pleasures to read. The title story, Carried Away, was especially good.(less)
I have heard a lot about H.P. Lovecraft, and I finally got around to reading a little of his works. The Call of Cthulhu is just one of several short s...moreI have heard a lot about H.P. Lovecraft, and I finally got around to reading a little of his works. The Call of Cthulhu is just one of several short stories in this book, but it's the only one I read; and I guarantee it won't be long before I read some more of his stories.
First of all, I loved HPL's writing style! Very few authors are able to seemingly create and manipulate the atmosphere and feeling that surround me as I am reading their words. Edgar Allan Poe, Ray Bradbury, and Cormac McCarthy are some of the authors who do this for me; and now I must add H.P. Lovecraft to that list. This particular story was so eerie that it will be unforgettable to me. Definitely a story and an author I would recommend to others.(less)
I was just wanting a book of short stories when I saw this book on the display of staff recommendations at Borders. Being a collection of Folk/Fairy t...moreI was just wanting a book of short stories when I saw this book on the display of staff recommendations at Borders. Being a collection of Folk/Fairy tales involving Jewish myth and culture, it seemed intriguing and unique -- something I might like for a change of pace from my usual reading fare of non-fiction and occasional classic fiction.
Well, it didn't entertain, enliven, or enlighten me as much as I had hoped. The stories were mildly entertaining, but they are all set in landscapes and cultures that seemed sur-realistic or magical, and full of people who are eerily not like real people in various weird ways. Of course, being fairy tales, I shouldn't have been surprised by this or by the many instances of mythical creatures and monsters either. But I guess I have just grown too old and have permanently left behind my childhood forever. By the way, it should be noted that these fairy tales are definitely not for children since many of them involve disturbing and bizarre sexual encounters of one kind or another.
So, overall, not a bad bunch of stories which really are fairly well-written, but they really didn't appeal that much to me. For people who are a little more imaginative and less realistic than I am this book might be just what they're looking for. (less)
Nine short stories comprise this fairly short book which won the Pulitzer prize in 2000. All the stories involve native people from India, and most of...moreNine short stories comprise this fairly short book which won the Pulitzer prize in 2000. All the stories involve native people from India, and most of the main characters are immigrants to the United States. The stories are:
1. A Temporary Matter – A young Indian immigrant couple who have lately drifted apart spend evenings during scheduled blackouts revealing secrets to each other. The young man enjoys the sessions and feels drawn closer to his wife. However, his wife, on the last day of the blackout, reveals that she is moving out and seeking a divorce.
2. When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine – a young boy learns a lot about the world and about his home country of India during the several weeks that a fellow immigrant dined with them in the evenings during the East-West Paskitani civil war.
3. Interpreter of Maladies – A tour guide in India is smitten by the young mother of a family he is driving to various sites. Because she takes an interest in his other profession, as a translator for a local doctor, he becomes enthralled with ideas of friendship and correspondence with her. As he later learns about her less-than-exemplary ways he becomes less enchanted.
4. A Real Durwan – A very poor old woman lives at the entrance to a lower-middle class apartment complex. She brags to everyone about the luxurious life she lived prior to partition. She is slowly neglected and eventually forced to leave her simple abode.
5. Sexy – A young woman has an on-going affair with a married man from India. She enjoys the attention and novelty at first, but eventually, because of the frankness of a young boy whose father is also having an affair, she realizes that what she is doing is wrong.
6. Mrs. Sen’s – A young boy spends his time after school with an immigrant woman who is being pressured by her husband to learn how to drive.
7. This Blessed House – A young Indian immigrant couple has just moved into a fixer-upper house. The woman keeps finding Christian symbols (statues, paintings, crosses, etc.) which she insists on keeping and even displaying while her husband wants to get rid of them all – they are Hindus.
8. The Treatment of Bibi Haldar – An undesirable orphan girl in India is afflicted with some kind of epilepsy for which no doctor seems to be able to alleviate. One sage eventually declares that if she will get married she will be cured, but despite efforts to find a husband she has no takers. Her plight worsens and eventually she is found to be pregnant. She never reveals who the father is, but after the birth she seems to be cured.
9. The Third and Final Continent – In 1969, a young man immigrates to the US where he rents a room from a 103-year-old woman who is thrilled about the recent moon landing.
In order (best to worst): 3, 5, 9, 1, 8, 4, 7, 2, 6. The first three are really excellent, while the last couple are just so-so. The writing is excellent and managed to keep my attention even though nothing truly exciting was ever being described. So, I give it 5 stars for the writing and 3 stars for the stories themselves. Overall a very good book. (less)