The Size of the World [NOOK Book]

Overview

Love and family loyalty meet up with the allure of far-off vistas in elegant new fiction by an acclaimed novelist.


A richly imagined novel—set in wartime Vietnam, Thailand, Mexico, Sicily, and contemporary America—about men and women whose jolting encounters with the unfamiliar force them to realize how many "riffs there are to being human." Travelers, colonials, immigrants, and returned ex-pats meet or pass one another in narratives spanning lifetimes.In the book's opening, an...
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The Size of the World

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Overview

Love and family loyalty meet up with the allure of far-off vistas in elegant new fiction by an acclaimed novelist.


A richly imagined novel—set in wartime Vietnam, Thailand, Mexico, Sicily, and contemporary America—about men and women whose jolting encounters with the unfamiliar force them to realize how many "riffs there are to being human." Travelers, colonials, immigrants, and returned ex-pats meet or pass one another in narratives spanning lifetimes.In the book's opening, an engineer in Vietnam is shaken to discover why his company's planes are getting lost. A modern marriage between a Thai Muslim and an American woman leads to a terrible family fight. In 1920s Siam a young woman experiences the colonial stance of her tin-prospecting brother. The last section returns the brother to the States, older now but ever in love with Asian women.Love, loss, yearning, self-delusion, and forgiveness are here in ways fresh and surprising. And in the tradition of E. M. Forster, seeing the size of the world changes the meaning of home-sickness for all the characters.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

War, love and culture shock take various forms, but the size of the world, in Silber's magnificent fiction, is often no larger than the distance to the person in bed beside you. Like NBA finalist Ideas of Heaven (2005), Silber's sixth work of fiction consists of interlinked stories where minor or passing characters in one piece become the narrators of others, roaming from WWII Sicily to roaring '20s Siam, and from Vietnam-era Mexico to 9/11-era Bloomington, Ind. All six stories turn on the tensions between home, exile and otherness, but to follow any of the threads would be to give away the subtle connections among the characters, from a male Sicilian-American postcolonialist professor from Hoboken to a Florida woman named Kit who can sum up an old boyfriend as "the sort of boy who seemed startled when having sex. At the time his awe and confusion were endearing." The frankness of Silber's characters is deliciously at odds with the delicacy of their observations as they absorb children, affairs, fractured and repaired families and early death in environments familiar and alien to them. The characters' many lifetimes pass with a page-turning effortlessness that belies their intense, moving depths. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
The size of the world turns out to be astonishingly large but also intimately connected, as this novel moves us dexterously across several generations, from Thailand to Vietnam, to Mexico and the United States. Silber (Ideas of Heaven, 2004, etc.) delicately entwines multiple narrative threads. She does so using the Faulkneresque technique of putting some characters on center stage for a time, then moving them to the side to give others the opportunity to tell their stories. There is no central unifying principle or guiding authorial consciousness. Rather, the antiphonal voices offer multiple perspectives. Many of the tensions inherent in the novel involve cross-cultural encounters. Toby, for example, is an engineer sent to Vietnam in the 1960s to figure out why planes on bombing runs are going drastically off course. After weeks of feverish activity with a brilliant colleague, they discover the mundane cause-defective screws in the gimbal of the gyroscopes. (In a deft move late in the novel, Silber introduces us to Owen, the character who sold these screws in the first place and is horrified by this discovery.) Toby marries a Thai nurse, Toon, who winds up on the periphery of another character's narrative. One story is narrated from the perspective of Corinna, Owen's sister, who develops a crush on Zain, a married Muslim. Silber gives one narrative to Kit, Toby's former girlfriend, to whom in loneliness he writes when he's in Vietnam. Annunziata narrates the story of her journey from Sicily to Brooklyn, and we find out that she's the mother of Viana, whose first husband's grandfather is Zain. Silber guides the reader expertly through the narrative maze, elegantly exploring the subtletiesof human interaction. Agent: Geri Thoma/Elaine Markson Agency
Howard Norman - Washington Post
“Silber allows readers to see life as intimately knowable yet essentially mysterious.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393070705
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 6/17/2008
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 336
  • File size: 401 KB

Meet the Author

Joan Silber
Joan Silber is the author of six previous works of fiction. Among many awards and honors, she has won a PEN/Hemingway Award and has been a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City.

Biography

Joan Slber is the author of four other books of fiction -- Lucky Us, In My Other Life, In the City, and Household Words, winner of a PEN/Hemingway Award. Her work appears in the current O. Henry Prize Stories and The Pushcart Prize, and in Norton's The Story Behind the Story: 26 Stories by Contemporary Writers and How They Work. Her stories have been published in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, The Paris Review, and other magazines. She's received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEA, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. Silber lives in New York City and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and has taught in the Warren Wilson College M.F.A. Program. She is currently at work on a novel about travel, and is also writing a book on time in fiction for Graywolf's Craft of Fiction series.

Silber says that the first story in Ideas of Heaven grew out of an incident someone told her about a dance coach humiliating his female student. The coach's repeated question, "How much do you want it?" suggested, for Silber, the lure of a higher purpose and the religious impulse sometimes embedded in odd places. The story's villain became the protagonist of the next story, and Silber saw that what she really wanted to write about was sex and religion -- "forms of dedication, forms of consolation" -- which she saw often filling in for each other.

Author biography courtesy of the National Book Foundation.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Silber:

"The title story of Ideas of Heaven is about American missionaries in China, and I based it loosely on a book of letters from a woman sent out in the 1890s by Oberlin College. I visited China just as I was beginning this story, and something quite amazing happened. In a park in Luoyang a man in his 70s began chatting with me in very good, American-accented English. When he heard I was a college professor, he asked if I'd heard of Oberlin College. It turned out he'd been taught by Oberlin missionaries in Shanxi in the 1930s -- a later group of the Congregationalists who were the models for my characters. I couldn't get over the coincidence, though I don't think it seemed astounding to him. His name is Li Xing Ye (he uses Mark Lee in English), and we've written many letters back and forth since then. I sent him a copy of the book and he was very pleased -- he did say it would take him a long time to read it."

"Grace Paley, my first fiction writing teacher, was a crucial influence. She taught me that humor could be a component of serious fiction and that character was always the thing to look at. Her first assignment was to write something in the voice of an actual person you didn't like.

"I've lived in New York my whole adult life, and as Burt Lancaster says in The Sweet Smell of Success, ‘I love this dirty town.' New Yorkers tend to stake their honor on their degree of self-possession -- whining is okay but panicking is not. They don't necessarily succeed in this and can blunder as badly as anywhere, but this is their standard, their own form of cowboy valor. I have to admit that I'm drawn to this sort of urban restraint."

"When my writing career was not going well, I began putting in volunteer time as a Buddy -- a kind of weekly helper -- to a person with AIDS. It turned out to be a totally great thing to do -- it retuned my perspective and expanded what I thought I could do. I'm still doing it eight years later."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, NY
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 14, 1945
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newark, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1967; M.A., New York University, 1980

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