Tales of the New World

Overview

In her first collection of stories since her PEN/Faulkner-winning The Caprices, Sabina Murray confronts the manipulation, compassion, ambition, and controversy surrounding some of the most intrepid and sadistic pioneers of the last four millennia.

Iconic explorers and settlers are made intimately human as they plow through the un-navigated boundaries of their worlds to give shape to modern geography, philosophy, and science. As Ferdinand Magellan sets out on his final voyage, he...

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Tales of the New World

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Overview

In her first collection of stories since her PEN/Faulkner-winning The Caprices, Sabina Murray confronts the manipulation, compassion, ambition, and controversy surrounding some of the most intrepid and sadistic pioneers of the last four millennia.

Iconic explorers and settlers are made intimately human as they plow through the un-navigated boundaries of their worlds to give shape to modern geography, philosophy, and science. As Ferdinand Magellan sets out on his final voyage, he forms an unlikely friendship with a rich scholar who harbors feelings for the captain, but in the end cannot save Magellan from his own greed. Balboa’s peek at the South Sea may never have happened if it wasn’t for his loyal and vicious dog, Leonico, and an unavoidable urge to relieve himself. And Captain Zimri Coffin is plagued by sleepless nights after reading Frankenstein, that is until his crew rescues two shipwrecked Englishmen who carry rumor of a giant and deadly white whale lurking in the depths of the ocean.

With her signature blend of sophistication and savagery, darkness and humor, Sabina Murray investigates the complexities of faith, the lure of the unknown, and the elusive mingling of history and legend.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Most of PEN/Faulkner Award–winner Murray's new story collection (after her 2007 novel Forgery) delves into the psyches of historical explorers and adventurers, affording rare glimpses of vulnerability in those who appear invulnerable. In "Translation," wealthy 15th-century translator Antonio Pigafetta befriends Ferdinand Magellan on an expedition to the Indies and records sailors' atrocities; after reading his journal, Magellan asks him to embellish the truth and alter the course of history. "The Solace of Monsters" imagines the chance meeting of Zimri Coffin, captain of the Dauphin, and Capts. Pollard and Ramsdell of the Essex, who Coffin rescues after their ship is "stove in by a whale." "Balboa" concerns the discovery and naming of the South Sea by the famous Spanish conquistador ("Vasco Nunez de Balboa ascends the mountain alone. His one thousand Indians and two hundred Spaniards wait at the foot of the mountain as if they are Israelites and Balboa alone is off to speak with God"); standing on the side of a mountain with just his dog Leoncico for company, Balboa has a rare, and humorous, defenseless moment despite his ruthless reputation. Murray's spirited writing is rooted in humanity and creates a fine sense of the real behind the lore. (Nov.)
Library Journal
This collection of short stories shares the common thread of geographical exploration, seen through the lives and travels of familiar names like Balboa and Magellan. Also included are more unfamiliar figures like Mary Kingsley, who despite a thwarted Victorian upbringing became a noted expert on Africa, and Edward John Eyre, an explorer of interior Australia who later sullied his reputation quelling a slave uprising in Jamaica. Given the real dangers of early travel, and with journey as an overarching metaphor, these stories become extended disquisitions on death. Even Eyre's native guide confuses expiration for exploration. In a bit of a stretch, one story focuses on cult leader Jim Jones, although he did end up in a strange place—and not just Guyana. Murray doesn't exactly put us inside the heads of these explorers, but rather sets them on their way and then speculates on their motives from a jaded, postmodern distance. VERDICT Plenty of historical facts for those who love travel writing, but primarily readers of literary fiction will want to jump on board. [See Prepub Alert, 5/9/11.]—Reba Melinda Leiding, James Madison Univ. Lib., Harrisonburg, VA
Kirkus Reviews
In 10 stories by Murray (Forgery, 2007, etc.), historical figures adventure into new worlds largely because they feel excluded in their old ones. "Fish," practically a novella, introduces and lays out the theme of outsider-turned-explorer in the story of Mary Kingsley. A meekly subservient Victorian daughter, she barely leaves her house until she is 29. Then using her health as an excuse, she travels to the Canary Islands. Soon she's hiking into the African interior where no Brit has gone before. Murray focuses on Kingsley's interior life, the fairies that bedevil her as she defies convention. The stories that follow seldom display the same emotional complexity, although "His Actual Mark" comes close: In old age Edward Jon Eyre tries to reconcile the disconnect between his 1840 trek across Australia alone with a young aborigine, to whom he owes his survival, and his controversial fame for suppressing rebellion among Jamaican blacks 25 years later. "Paradise" probes the identity of Jim Jones of Jonestown infamy, and by extension other monster leaders from Pol Pot to Idi Amin to Hitler. The monsters of "The Solace of Monsters" are both whales and the whalers who hunt and fear them. Buccaneer William Dampier sails around the world three times, sometimes with the British government's blessing. Readers may wonder if the young Jesuit who becomes Dr. Murray and travels to the Far East is the author's father, but the story "Periplus" feels more philosophic than personal. Elsewhere, a self-proclaimed Venetian scholar sailing with Magellan chronicles the explorer's wrongheaded choices even as he falls in love with him. A seer helplessly foretells the destruction of the Aztecs by the Spanish invasion. "Balboa" is a pig farmer escaping debt. And finally while visiting "On Sakhalin" and taking a fake census of the penal colony, Chekhov represents the storywriter as explorer and outsider both. Murray's writing is chilly, but she is astute about the addictive nature of adventure and the unnerving relationship between the explorer and those he explores/hunts.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802170835
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/8/2011
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,413,890
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

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