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Tales of the Night


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Danish author HÝeg has published four novels in the United States, including the critically acclaimed thriller Smilla's Sense of Snow (LJ 8/93). This book is his first collection of stories. Like his novels, HÝeg's short fiction examines the clash of radically different cultures: Western and non-Western, straight and gay, scientific and magical. In "The Verdict on Ignatio Landstad Rasker," a straight-faced judge falls helplessly in love with a man he has just sentenced to prison for homosexual behavior. In "An Experiment on the Constancy of Love," a brilliant student of physicist Niels Bohr devotes her research to time travel. In the strongest story in the collection, "Journey into a Dark Heart," the central character is a mathematician who has abandoned his studies after a disillusioning discussion with Kurt Gödel. He accepts a job with an African railroad company, only to encounter Joseph Conrad lending support to anti-European terrorists. HÝeg's use of a polished 19th-century prose style to examine 20th-century issues strongly recalls the work of fellow Dane Isak Dinesen. Recommended for most fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/97.]‘Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch., Los Angeles

Originally published in Denmark in 1990, before HÝeg's 1993 bestseller, Smilla's Sense of Snow, these eight stories take us to eight separate corners of the world on the night of March 19, 1929, a sort of universal Black Monday of the soul. In "Journey into a Dark Heart," a young Danish mathematician falls in with Joseph Conrad on a train trip up the heart of the war-torn Congo; "Hommage à Bournonville" follows star-crossed love into the esoteric world of Danish ballet; in "An Experiment on the Continuity of Love," a female scientist investigates the decay of sexual attraction by an unusual method. It's all heavily symbolic stuff, unabashedly reminiscent of Conrad, Kafka and other early-20th-century masters. Despite a certain stiffness in the prose (the fault of the translation, perhaps), the deep despair and foreboding of well-intentioned Europeans victimized by the very culture that was supposed to educate them is often painfully credible. Potent but problematic, this collection lays bare the difficulties of love, even if it must make do without the dazzling lucidity of HÝeg's more recent works. (Feb.)

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