music for wartime book coverReviewed by Alisha Churbe

Rebecca Makkai’s short story collection, Music for Wartime, is a fantastic, well-written collection. All of the stories are interesting, deeply moving and addictive. Some of the stories are legend and lore based on her family history. Makkai is known for her novels, The Hundred-Year House and The Borrower. I haven’t read either, but based on how daring and compelling her short stories are, I can’t wait to add the novels to my reading list.  It’s no surprise that the stories have been published in magazines such as Tin House, Harper’s, Ploughshares, and twice in The Best American Short Stories.

Near the beginning of the collection, you’ll encounter the story, “The Worst You Ever Feel,” a story about a boy who, while listening to a concert given in his home by a famous Romanian violinist, begins to piece together things about his father. The story feels like a haunting, of a legend, a story of secrets. Makkai’s prose is precise, vivid, and intense. In “Couple of Lovers on a Red Background,” a young woman envisions Bach living in her home, and in “The Briefcase,” a chef escapes prison and takes over the identity of a physics professor. A college professor who teaches “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” mistakenly shoots an albatross while visiting Australia, that begins a storm of unforeseen circumstances in the story titled, “Painted Ocean, Painted Ship.” The stories can be quirky, but the themes and characters are universal and unforgettable.

Rebecca Makkai’s short story collection is truly remarkable and one of the best I have ever read. The stories are extremely textured and the feelings, descriptions, characters and settings are expertly written. The stories stand alone or flow together depending on how you read them. The majority of the stories are packed so full of depth, detail and emotion that you’ll feel as though you’ve read an entire novel, while others are short and condensed, but they will still leave a lasting impression. There are stories full of love and tenderness that are placed near those of devastation and heartache, but the stories seem to belong together. I can’t recommend this collection enough.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Viking. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.