Tales of the New World

Black Cat: Grove. Nov. 2011. c.272p. ISBN 9780802170835. pap. $14.95. F
This collection of short stories shares the common thread of geographical exploration, seen through the lives and travels of familiar names like Balboa and Magellan. Also included are more unfamiliar figures like Mary Kingsley, who despite a thwarted Victorian upbringing became a noted expert on Africa, and Edward John Eyre, an explorer of interior Australia who later sullied his reputation quelling a slave uprising in Jamaica. Given the real dangers of early travel, and with journey as an overarching metaphor, these stories become extended disquisitions on death. Even Eyre's native guide confuses expiration for exploration. In a bit of a stretch, one story focuses on cult leader Jim Jones, although he did end up in a strange place—and not just Guyana. Murray doesn't exactly put us inside the heads of these explorers, but rather sets them on their way and then speculates on their motives from a jaded, postmodern distance.
VERDICT Plenty of historical facts for those who love travel writing, but primarily readers of literary fiction will want to jump on board. [See Prepub Alert, 5/9/11.]
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