In this remarkably assured and satisfying debut collection, John Murray seamlessly meshes fact with fiction, taking his inspiration from the worlds of science, medicine, and nature. The stories are set in intriguing locations across the globe -- a cholera tent in the slums of Bombay, a United Nations refugee camp in the mountains of Africa, a Key West hideaway -- where his characters, among them doctors, nurses, research scientists, explorers, and collectors, can be found reading The Manual of Clinical Microbiology or Gray's Anatomy or the Complete Textbook of Psychiatry. And yet, despite the pull of the outer world, these stories are all about the internal world of emotions -- love, loss, obsession, and conflict -- and about families and how they survive. They unfold to tell of moments when people catch glimpses of their real selves, their pasts, and have flashes of understanding about their lives. In "The Hill Station," an American-born scientist is drawn to Bombay, the homeland of her parents, where she breaks free from the confines of her well-ordered life.
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
Spinella turns in a smart, crisp performance of these achingly personal stories that take place at the crossroads of a variety of characters' lives. The prerequisite here is a penchant for impersonation, as formal British, cockney, and, especially, Indian accents abound. Spinella, a veteran stage actor, handles them all more than passably, demonstrating a flair for the Indian characters in particular. That his reading is otherwise largely unremarkable is actually an excellent thing in this case, as the stories are so replete with vivid detail and finely etched characters that it seems a narrator's only fault could be getting in the way. Instead, Spinella eschews bombast (except in the case of a frustrated wife in the title story) and reads with a style that echoes that of the writing itself: simple, even and subtle. These are beautifully crafted, honest portrayals of people in the throes of life. And no matter how far-flung the locales-from the cholera-ridden streets of hardscrabble Bombay to a U.N. refugee camp under attack in Africa-the stories' messages are sure to hit home. Simultaneous release with the HarperCollins hardcover (Forecasts, Feb. 10). (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
January 20, 2004
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies by John Murray
The Hill Station
On the first morning of the training in Bombay, just minutes before she collapsed, Elizabeth Dinakar stood in front of two hundred people in the conference hall, pointed up at the cholera bacteria magnified on the wall in front of her, and said "This is your enemy." The room was long and stuffy, with peeling walls and rattling air conditioners. People coughed and shuffled papers. The bacteria were the size of cars. Elizabeth Dinakar was tall and thin with thick black eyebrows. Her hair was pulled away from her face and held in a bun at the back of her head. She wore a silk shirt and khaki skirt, flat-soled shoes, and no makeup.
She talked slowly and illustrated everything she said with graphs and photographs. "Every child has five to seven episodes of diarrhea a year," she said, "and that is a great ocean of diarrhea. People are floating on it." She spoke as if she were reading, had a familiarity with the organisms that cause infectious diarrhea that was precise and detailed. She saw a beauty in the microscopic world that she knew others could not understand. She took it personally. As she spoke she tapped a wooden pointer against the floor. Beads of perspiration ran down her back. At the other end of the room, two stainless-steel tea urns sat on tables covered with white tablecloths. During breaks, the tea was poured into thick British Civil Service cups on saucers, and that morning she had looked over the rim of her teacup out into modern India, framed by the doors, noisy and glaring in the sun.
Blood drained from Elizabeth Dinakar's face and she felt light-headed. She had begun with a discussion of cholera, a disease with its origins along the Bay of Bengal that had ravaged white-limbed British soldiers in Calcutta. Cholera is one of India's great legacies to the world, she said, something that has struck fear into the hearts of men. She flashed a slide of a nineteenth-century lithograph depicting the specter of cholera hanging over New York City like the Grim Reaper. People at the back of the room laughed a little at this image, and Elizabeth said that it was astonishing how far they had come in just a few years; now cholera could be pinned down in the laboratory with culture, biochemistry, and antibodies. All the mystery has gone, she said, and as she spoke her voice seemed to become fainter to her, muffled, as if it were speaking from a distance. It is a conquest, she said, a conquest orchestrated by microbiologists working systematically, using solid bench science. She wondered if she sounded melodramatic, although she believed that it was dramatic; the triumph over cholera represented a triumph of the scientific method over chaos.
She stopped talking and let the pointer slip from her fingers. She turned her back to the audience. It crossed her mind that she was going to die. On the wall above her was a large Bakelite clock with a round white face and huge hands that had the appearance of sharpened harpoons. She stared up at the clock. As she lost consciousness, she saw herself as a little girl watching her father shoveling snow. She felt ice crystals on her cheeks, smelled cigarette smoke, and for an instant heard her father speaking to her. Then she fell to the floor.