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A Registry of My Passage upon the Earth: Stories Hardcover – Illustrated, May 5, 2020
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A Pulitzer Prize Finalist: This collection of moving short stories is “a treasure trove of lush scene setting in faraway times and places” (Alexis Burling, San Francisco Chronicle).
On a fateful flight, a balloonist makes a discovery that changes her life forever. A telegraph operator finds an unexpected companion in the middle of the Amazon. A doctor is beset by seizures, in which he is possessed by a second, perhaps better, version of himself. And in Regency London, a bare-knuckle fighter prepares to face his most fearsome opponent, while a young mother seeks a miraculous cure for her ailing son.
At times funny and irreverent, always moving and deeply urgent, these stories—among them a National Magazine Award and a Pushcart Prize winner—cap a fifteen-year project. From the Nile's depths to the highest reaches of the atmosphere, from volcano-racked islands to an asylum on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, these are tales of ecstasy, epiphany, and what the New York Times Magazine called the "struggle for survival . . . hand to hand, word to word," by "one of the finest prose stylists in American fiction."
A Library Journal Best Book of 2020
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"Unique and beguiling... Mason's first short story collection is a treasure trove of lush scene setting in faraway times and places, from the wilds of England to the Malay Archipelago... A perfect and fitting pick for these seemingly endless days when science, our understanding of reality and a faint longing for human connection are so irrevocably intertwined."―Alexis Burling, San Francisco Chronicle
"What I've found most remarkable about Mason's fiction is the quality of his revelations, his ability to unveil temperaments, habits, natures. His stories are mysteries, albeit not in the genre sense... In all of the stories, you can see Mason figuring out new strategies to get closer to the people he is writing about. Each is a portrait, each a deep dive into an individual's nature, each rooted in history."―Wyatt Mason, New York Times Magazine
“A Registry of My Passage upon the Earth is itself something of an aesthetic miracle of found material, an extraordinarily rich and varied collection in which Mason's erudition shimmers with insight and deep feeling.”―Northern California Book Award Committee
“Mason is particularly strong at depicting the state of mind a character works himself into when struggling with fear, uncertainty or even impostor syndrome… the subjects and settings provide a pleasing unity. The grand pleasures of fiction are all here: rich, cushioning detail; vivid characters delivering decisive action; and a sense of escape into a larger world.”―John Self, The Guardian
"Mason conveys more in a short story than many authors manage in an entire novel."―Christian Science Monitor
“The characters in these robust short stories, set mostly in the nineteenth century, struggle as captains of their destinies.”―The New Yorker
"A wonderful set of period tales that offer a welcome transportive escape... conjuring a vivid world of scientific endeavor and human isolation in myriad settings."―Mariella Frostrup, BBC
"Daniel Mason is a masterful storyteller, and these stories---the attention to history and science and all that is unknown---are nothing short of brilliant. With exquisite, mesmerizing language, he transports us to places far beyond the realm of our realities and then lands us in ways wholly intimate and moving. A Registry Of My Passage Upon the Earth is a marvel and a journey not to be missed."―Jill McCorkle, New York Times bestselling author of Life After Life
"An enchanting cabinet of curiosities and wonders... Mason is one of our best historical novelists, creating panoramas of rich detail, propulsive plot, and artful character development... In his first story collection, he shows how quickly and completely he can immerse readers in a foreign place and time... Nine tales of human endurance, accomplishment, and epiphany told with style and brio."―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
About the Author
- Publisher : Little, Brown and Company; Illustrated edition (May 5, 2020)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 031647763X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0316477635
- Item Weight : 11.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 6.05 x 1.1 x 8.65 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #722,372 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on May 11, 2020
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Mason moves from the life of a 19th century boxer to ancient Egypt, to the jungles of Brazil to France in the time of ballooning in the early 19th century. There is a story set in the South Pacific during the pursuit of the “reality” of evolution using a non-fictional person as lead; another where a man, a doctor, feels his life being subsumed by another (? better) man. There are magical moments, hints of (or more obvious) madness, stark reality, or perhaps alternative reality. So much to read and feel. I am writing this just after finishing the book, with the impact still resonating.
I also recommend reading the author’s afterword. It explains some things about his background that I did not know, which, I believe, are likely powerful influences on his work. It and the acknowledgments also explain the reality behind the titular final story.
Very highly recommended.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
These tales contain themes of obsession, compulsive behaviour, wonder, doubts and fears, epiphany, and the search for knowledge, truth and understanding.
The 9 short stories are about: a desperate mother whose son is sickened by the heavy pollution in Victorian England, a muscular young bare-knuckle fighter, a doctor suffering from memory lapses during which his body is overtaken by a better version of himself, a female balloonist who believes she sees something during an ascent which angers the scientific community, a deranged data gatherer in an asylum, an immigrant participating in civil way enactments to prove his patriotic zeal, a ruler in ancient Egypt conducting bizarre human experiments, a solitary telegraph operator in the Brazilian jungle, and an insect collector in jungles of South Asia and South seas whose theories coincide with those of the more renowned Darwin.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for this interesting and memorable ARC.
Born a winter child in the Bristol slums, in the quayside heap known only as “The Rat,” Jacob Burke, who would come to battle the great McGraw on that fateful day in 1824, was a son of the stevedore Isaac Burke and the seamstress Anne Murphy.
Seventeen rounds of physical battering as this boxing match is shared so vividly, you can sense the tension, feel the sweat being slung around as bodies are battered and tossed around this ring, hear the jeers and cheers and see it all.
In 'The Ecstasy of Alfred Russel Wallace' a British collector of fossil, flower, beetle, stone, even as a child, a story that follows his life in the Malay Archipelago. Nature filled him with an ecstasy that at times felt like lust.
"Sometimes, during the night, she wakes to a presence, a creature sliding through the darkness, watching, waiting to descend. She doesn’t dare to look; to move even slightly is to risk waking the child, and it’s for him she knows the ghost has come." This story, On Growing Ferns and Other Plants in Glass Cases, in the Midst of the Smoke of London is a story of a mother and her son.
A Frenchman responsible for maintaining a lone railway station in the Amazon rainforest, with little connection to the outside world is the focus for 'The Line Agent Pascal.' "For the truth was that, however distant his colleagues were, he’d come to understand them intimately over the years, could describe each man, each station, with details he had never seen." He knows Pinto who is at Varzea Nova from his requests for medicine, knows he has a wife and daughter and that Pinto has lumbago, and similarly, he knows the men at all the stations, the ins and outs of their lives. Much like we come to know each other on social media, through the details shared over time.
In 'On the Cause of Winds and Waves, &c' a woman, Celeste, is an aeronaute, a balloonist who writes her sister as this story begins, ”…something has driven me skyward … Even my baptismal name has felt like some hint of destiny." She shares her story of a flight where she ascends higher than anyone else had, when her eye catches a 'strange vision', a 'tear, a rent in the firmament'. Her husband, Pierre, seeks to capitalize on this while scientists disbelieve, and so she is sent back up – this time with a man who is sure to be more rational, believable.
'A Registry of My Passage upon the Earth 'is shared through letters, reports, a journal-ish sharing of a life. "Beginnings. 22.December.1938 Midnight, accompanied by seven angels on clouds shaped like a stairway, they left me at the house, at the base of the walls. Sao Clemente Street.number.301.Botafogo.Rio de Janeiro, I alone with lance in hand." This is shared in a foggy dream-like, hallucinogenic quality, by a man whose attachment to reality is somewhat tenuous, shared through his writing, he shows his delusions, obsessions and strangely beautiful thoughts. "Here I register the 9 ways man walks toward things and the 11 ways he flees."
I haven’t covered all of the stories, there are nine in total, but all are worth reading, even if they are not equally captivating. In each story, you will find yourself in a different place, time and find yourself pulled into the life of another person, perhaps in a different place or time, but each will leave you thinking and, if you’re like me, enchanted. This was my introduction to Daniel Mason’s writing, and I look forward to reading more.
Many thanks for the ARC provided by Little, Brown and Company
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Characters as diverse as: an English boxer, a naturalist, a telegraph operator, a pioneer balloonist woman, and to cap it all, a Brazilian mad artist (same title as the book's).
Already awaiting the next book by this fantastic author.