No dead author is more alive on the page than Berlin: funny, dark, and so in love with the world.


Twenty-two more stories from an author who died in 2004 and made it big in 2015.

Berlin (A Manual for Cleaning Women, 2015, etc.) published 76 stories in her lifetime in a number of small-press books. Three years ago, a collection that reprinted 43 of them took the literary world by storm, with placement on top-ten lists and comparisons to Carver, Paley, Munro, and Chekhov abounding. (The book was also a finalist for the Kirkus Prize for Fiction.) Blessedly, a second volume with 22 more stories is in no way second rate but rather features more seductive, sparkling autofiction with narrators whose names echo the author's in settings and situations that come from her roller-coaster biography (which is summarized in an appendix). The stories are arranged in roughly chronological order, beginning with two set in El Paso, Texas, about a little troublemaker named Lucha, followed by three in Chile. In "Andado: A Gothic Romance," Laura's family is invited to spend four days at the country estate of a man named Don Andrés. Her parents can't make it, so they send her by herself. "Ted said his child would be coming, not a lovely woman," comments the former ambassador to France, one of the wealthiest men in Chile. "I'm fourteen," Laura replies. "I'm just all dressed up for this party." This information will not have much effect on Don Andrés' conduct. The title story takes its inspiration from the period when the author was married to Buddy Berlin, a jazz player and sometime heroin addict, and the two lived with their kids outside Puerto Vallarta. It features cameos by Richard Burton, Liz Taylor, Ava Gardner, and John Huston, whose appearance in that area during the filming of Night of the Iguana is legendary. Its lightheartedness is immediately balanced by "La Barca de la Ilusión," which finds its protagonist in a palapa with a floor of sand on the Mexican coast, home-schooling her boys, hoping that living in the middle of nowhere will keep her husband off drugs. (What she does to his dealer is probably fictional, but we'll never know.) For black humor and alcoholism, go straight to "The Wives," in which two exes of the same man get together to chug rum and reminisce, spilling drinks and burning holes in their clothes.

No dead author is more alive on the page than Berlin: funny, dark, and so in love with the world.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-27948-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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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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Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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