A worthwhile read for aspiring ethnographers or readers interested in South Pacific culture.

A Red Woman Was Crying


This collection of short stories by anthropologist Mitchell provides a window into the culture of the Pacific Islands.

The Nagovisi people live in West-Central Bougainville Island, which is part of the Solomon Islands in terms of culture and ethnicity but is politically part of Papua New Guinea. Although the stories Mitchell presents are to be read as fiction rather than ethnography, they nevertheless offer a glimpse of a group of people and a way of living with which many readers are likely unfamiliar. The tales, which range in length from a single page to 50, display a variety of storytelling techniques. Some, such as “Crocodile Kills His Father” and the eponymous “A Red Woman Was Crying,” are takes on traditional folktales. In the former, after a woman named Sipita gives birth to the first crocodile, she hides him in a basket and warns her husband not to look inside, just as, say, Bluebeard warned his wife not to open the closet and Pandora was warned not to open her box. Some of the stories give a view of the larger Nagovisi culture and seem representative of what might be told to children, the equivalent of the Western tale of Mother Goose. Others have a more typical narrative structure and, rather than highlighting any sort of overarching mythology or belief system, serve to explicate aspects of day-to-day life in this culture. There’s much of interest here, particularly to readers with an anthropological bent, but even though Mitchell doesn’t aim for this to be an academic text, a little more context would be helpful. The collection would also read more smoothly if the folktales were presented in some kind of lucid order; as is, the contrasts in style can be abrupt and somewhat jarring.

A worthwhile read for aspiring ethnographers or readers interested in South Pacific culture.

Pub Date: July 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-0983307242

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Saddle Road Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2014

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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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