Archangel

Archangel

5.0 1
by Andrea Barrett
     
 

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"[Andrea Barrett's] work stands out for its sheer intelligence…The overall effect is quietly dazzling."—New York Times Book Review

Winner of the National Book Award for her collection of stories Ship Fever, Andrea Barrett has become one of our most admired and beloved writers. In this magnificent new book, she unfolds five

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Overview

"[Andrea Barrett's] work stands out for its sheer intelligence…The overall effect is quietly dazzling."—New York Times Book Review

Winner of the National Book Award for her collection of stories Ship Fever, Andrea Barrett has become one of our most admired and beloved writers. In this magnificent new book, she unfolds five pivotal moments in the lives of her characters and in the history of knowledge.

During the summer of 1908, twelve-year-old Constantine Boyd is witness to an explosion of home-spun investigation—from experiments with cave-dwelling fish without eyes to scientifically bred crops to motorized bicycles and the flight of an early aeroplane. In 1920, a popular science writer and young widow tries, immediately after the bloodbath of the First World War, to explain the new theory of relativity to an audience (herself included) desperate to believe in an “ether of space” housing spirits of the dead. Half a century earlier, in 1873, a famous biologist struggles to maintain his sense of the hierarchies of nature as Darwin’s new theory of evolution threatens to make him ridiculous in the eyes of a precocious student. The twentieth-century realms of science and war collide in the last two stories, as developments in genetics and X-ray technology that had once held so much promise fail to protect humans—among them, a young American soldier, Constantine Boyd, sent to Archangel, Russia, in 1919—from the failures of governments and from the brutality of war.

In these brilliant fictions rich with fact, Barrett explores the thrill and sense of loss that come with scientific progress and the personal passions and impersonal politics that shape all human knowledge.

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Editorial Reviews

Karen Russell
“At last! It's finally here: the astonishing new collection from that genius-enchantress, Andrea Barrett. Who but Barrett can take on the inscrutable elegance of the cosmos and the messy complexity of the human heart in a single story? In her joy-to-read prose, with scientific precision and warm insight, Barrett translates the unknown into our world of reference. Her characters' thirst for discovery is contagious, and every story in Archangel is suffused with the most miraculous horizon light.”
Booklist
“Starred review. Barrett’s consummate historical stories of family, ambition, science, and war are intellectually stimulating, lushly emotional, and altogether pleasurable.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Stories that shiver with an awe . . . realizations occur that can only be called sublime, everything preceding them consisting of the mundane stuff of the world transformed by the alchemy of story.”
New York Times
“Elegantly contemplative…. A book full of strong women. . . . Recall[s] the power and mystery of Ms. Barrett’s Ship Fever, another collection of exceptional delicacy and grace.”
John Freeman - Boston Globe
“An elegant new story collection… Barrett frequently telescopes out of human frailty to an almost cosmic realm.”
The New York Times - Janet Maslin
…elegantly contemplative…The best of the five stories in Archangel recall the power and mystery of Ms. Barrett's Ship Fever, another collection of exceptional delicacy and grace…Her stories work as both fiction and as philosophy of science. And she need do no grandstanding to advance her belief in unstoppable progress. But this book does offer a powerfully human sense of the struggle it takes for new ideas to dislodge old ones.
Publishers Weekly
Barrett, whose novel Ship Fever won the 1996 National Book Award, dwells on the intersections between science (her interests include genetics, astronomy, and zoology) and ethics (love, purpose, solace). Her training in biology and her meticulous research allow Barrett to speak of facts with authority, but in this powerful collection of five long stories, the facts come through the eyes of lost, lonely, elusive “investigators.” In “The Ether of Space,” set in 1920, astronomer Phoebe Wells struggles with the implications of Einstein’s theories; in “The Island,” set in 1873, young biologist Henrietta Atkins, initially worshipful of a creationist professor, succumbs to Darwinism. As is typical of Barrett’s work, characters overlap. A 12-year-old boy catching his first sight of “aeroplanes” in “The Investigators,” set in 1908, is encountered again as a WWI soldier in the excellent title story, where he sees planes bombing his camp. At times, Barrett’s exercises in defamiliarization falter, leaving us with a barrage of historic-scientific details; at others, her ruminative observers remain too elusive to be believed, with “loneliness” and “enigma” crossing into tropes. But these few missteps don’t counter the overall power of the book; there is indeed a sense of expansion as one travels onward in Barrett’s world, and pleasure in watching it fill out. Agent: Emily Forland, Brandt & Hochman. (Aug.)
Lloyd Sachs - Chicago Tribune
“Does anyone write with a calmer authority than Andrea Barrett? …Archangel… ranks right up there with her National Book Award-winning Ship Fever.”
Michael Lindgren - Washington Post
“An evocative, sepia-toned beauty…. Lovely, lambent prose, balanced and graceful.”
April Bernard - New York Review of Books
“Pulls us relentlessly away from false comforts, into the dazzling, often chaotic, world as it really is.”
Donna Seaman - Booklist
“Barrett’s consummate historical stories of family, ambition, science, and war are intellectually stimulating, lushly emotional, and altogether pleasurable.”
Library Journal
With books like Voyage of the Narwhal, Barrett showed that she can write perceptively about science. With her National Book Award winner, Ship Fever, she showed that she has mastered the short form. With these short stories, focusing on science, she's set to prove herself on both counts. In "The Ether of Space," "The Island," and "The Particles," committed young scientists of both genders run up against the enormity of work by Einstein, Darwin, and Mendel, while "The Investigators" introduces 12-year-old Constantine Boyd, who delights in inventions like the aeroplane. Later, in the title story, we meet Constantine as a soldier in 1919 Russia as he discovers the possibilities—and limitations—of X-ray technology.
Kirkus Reviews
The award-winning author returns with another collection of stories distinguished by uncommon scope and depth. Having won the National Book Award with Ship Fever (1996), Barrett has continued to command fictional territory all her own. Her latest collection of five stories finds her fiction typically steeped in science, rich in ideas, set in the historical past, and filled with characters who share the excitement, and some of the fear, of discovery. Framing the collection are two stories featuring the same protagonist, Constantine Boyd, as a boy of 12 from Detroit in "The Investigators," set in 1908, and as a soldier amid the madness of war in the concluding title story, set in 1919 Russia. The first story is a masterwork of misdirection, as the boy investigates a world rife with discovery--of evolution, flight, family, identity, self (away from home, he flirts with calling himself "Stan")--while the reader discovers the underlying story of the protagonist's home life, the reasons why the boy spends summers with one uncle or another. Other stories delve deeply into the debates initially surrounding evolution, the popular but subsequently discarded notion of ether, and the darker implications of genetics (with the rise of Nazi Germany as a backdrop). Yet the characters are never secondary to (or mere mouthpieces for) the provocative ideas, as the stories explore relationships among mentors and students, scientific rivals, romantic attractions. She writes not only of someone "who still appreciates the poet's wonderment in these days at the marvels of science," but as someone who can recapture that wonderment decades after such marvels have been embraced or refuted. And she recognizes throughout the collection "how the theories seized on with such enthusiasm by one generation might be discarded scornfully by the next." Barrett's stories rank with the best.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393348774
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
07/07/2014
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
628,211
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

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