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Archangel: Fiction

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Description

"[Andrea Barrett's] work stands out for its sheer intelligence…The overall effect is quietly dazzling."—New York Times Book Review
Winner of the National Book Award for her collection of stories Ship Fever, Andrea Barrett has become one of our most admired and beloved writers. In this magnificent new book, she unfolds five pivotal moments in the lives of her characters and in the history of knowledge.
During the summer of 1908, twelve-year-old Constantine Boyd is witness to an explosion of home-spun investigation—from experiments with cave-dwelling fish without eyes to scientifically bred crops to motorized bicycles and the flight of an early aeroplane. In 1920, a popular science writer and young widow tries, immediately after the bloodbath of the First World War, to explain the new theory of relativity to an audience (herself included) desperate to believe in an “ether of space” housing spirits of the dead. Half a century earlier, in 1873, a famous biologist struggles to maintain his sense of the hierarchies of nature as Darwin’s new theory of evolution threatens to make him ridiculous in the eyes of a precocious student. The twentieth-century realms of science and war collide in the last two stories, as developments in genetics and X-ray technology that had once held so much promise fail to protect humans—among them, a young American soldier, Constantine Boyd, sent to Archangel, Russia, in 1919—from the failures of governments and from the brutality of war.

In these brilliant fictions rich with fact, Barrett explores the thrill and sense of loss that come with scientific progress and the personal passions and impersonal politics that shape all human knowledge.

From Publishers Weekly

Jun 17, 2013 – Barrett, whose novel Ship Fever won the 1996 National Book Award, dwells on the intersections between science (her interests include genetics, astronomy, and zoology) and ethics (love, purpose, solace). Her training in biology and her meticulous research allow Barrett to speak of facts with authority, but in this powerful collection of five long stories, the facts come through the eyes of lost, lonely, elusive “investigators.” In “The Ether of Space,” set in 1920, astronomer Phoebe Wells struggles with the implications of Einstein’s theories; in “The Island,” set in 1873, young biologist Henrietta Atkins, initially worshipful of a creationist professor, succumbs to Darwinism. As is typical of Barrett’s work, characters overlap. A 12-year-old boy catching his first sight of “aeroplanes” in “The Investigators,” set in 1908, is encountered again as a WWI soldier in the excellent title story, where he sees planes bombing his camp. At times, Barrett’s exercises in defamiliarization falter, leaving us with a barrage of historic-scientific details; at others, her ruminative observers remain too elusive to be believed, with “loneliness” and “enigma” crossing into tropes. But these few missteps don’t counter the overall power of the book; there is indeed a sense of expansion as one travels onward in Barrett’s world, and pleasure in watching it fill out.

Customer Reviews

Beautiful synthesis of art and science

Barnett weaves tales of yearning for knowledge, love, and discovery in several linked stories. She masterfully creates fully realized characters in a few short strokes. I only wish these wonderful short stories had had more room to breathe in a novel--these characters and their stories had the complexity and nuance to support a novel's size.

Archangel: Fiction
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  • $10.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Short Stories
  • Published: Aug 19, 2013
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • Seller: W. W. Norton
  • Print Length: 224 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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