The seven stories in Nam Le's masterful collection take us across the globe, guiding us to the heart of what it means to be human. From the slums of Colombia to Iowa City and from the streets of Tehran to a foundering vessel in the South China Sea, here are thrilling versatile tales that herald the arrival of a remarkable new writer.
From a Colombian slum to the streets of Tehran, seven characters in seven stories struggle with very particular Swords of Damocles in Pushcart Prize winner Le's accomplished debut. In "Halflead Bay," an Australian mother begins an inevitable submission to multiple sclerosis as her teenage son prepares for the biggest soccer game of his life. The narrator of "Meeting Elise," a successful but ailing artist in Manhattan, mourns his dead lover as he anticipates meeting his daughter for the first time since she was an infant. The opening "Love and Honor and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice" features a Vietnamese character named Nam who is struggling to complete his Iowa Writer's Workshop master's as his father comes for a tense visit, the first since an earlier estrangement shattered the family. The story's ironies "You could totally exploit the Vietnamese thing," says a fellow student to Nam are masterfully controlled by Le, and reverberate through the rest of this peripatetic collection. Taken together, the stories cover a vast geographic territory (Le was born in Vietnam and immigrated to Australia) and are filled with exquisitely painful and raw moments of revelation, captured in an economical style as deft as it is sure.