I wasn’t sure what to expect when I asked for an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Sabina Murray’s Tales of the New World but the title sounded enticing. For some reason, and this is embarrassing to admit, I didn’t even realize it was a collection of short stories until I had already begun to read. I guess my brain was taking a mini-vacation without me that day. Whatever led to me choosing this book, however, I’m really glad I did.
Sabina Murray is a Pen/Faulkner award-winning author and it shows in this collection, which spans centuries of known and unknown explorers without whom we would probably still think the world was flat. Tales of the New World contains 10 stories, each very different from the last.
Here are brief descriptions of some of the stories:
Balboa is interestingly enough about this pig farmer who is trying to escape his debt and owes much to his trusty dog.
On Sakhalin is where Chekhov is supposed to take a census of that penal colony.
His Actual Mark is about Edward Jon Eyre, who is looking back on his early life as an Australian explorer.
Paradise explores Jim Jones, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and other infamous leaders.
The Solace of Monsters is about whales and Captain Coffin’s whalers who hunt them.
Periplus is about a young Jesuit who travels to the Far East.
And then there’s my favorite, Fish. Fish could be, and maybe should have been, an independent novel. When Mary Kingsley was a young child, she almost drowned. Ever since then she’s been fascinated by fish. She also fascinated by her father’s explorations for an entirely different reason. Unfortunately she lives in Victorian England and is raised to be stuck in the role of the family’s spinster caretaker.
“’I should like,’ she says, straightening her shoulders, ‘I should very much like,’ she says, ‘to travel to Samoa.’ ‘Oh, Mary,’ says Father, ‘Samoa’s no place for a girl –‘…’If Samoa is no place for girls,’ she says, ‘then I shall go to Africa.’”
She’s always wanted to go to Africa alone and she finally begins to plot how to accomplish that when she’s 29 years old. The courage and strength exemplified by Mary Kingsley touched my heart and made me cheer for her while the way she was used by everyone around her made me boil, even though I know it was common in that era. This is a really amazing story of determination, quiet persistence, and how addictive freedom can be.
Sabina Murray’s writing in Tales of the New World is superb and makes reading these stories well worthwhile. At times her stories are dark and chilling, and they can twist on a knife edge from humor to tragedy; however, they speak very realistically about the human condition and about how addictive independence and exploration can be. I thoroughly enjoyed the collection as a whole. Like most collections, some stories spoke to me more than others; however, all were very well written.
Tales of the New World was released on November 8, 2011, so it should be available at your favorite bookseller below:
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