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The author of the award-winning novel English Passengers takes readers around the world in twelve deftly crafted stories that illuminate the uncertainties of life at home and abroad.
Matthew Kneale received high praise for the prize-winning English Passengers, an epic romp on the high seas and across nineteenth-century cultures, ingeniously woven together by a multitude of narrators. In Small Crimes In An Age of Abundance, Kneale brings his mastery of storytelling to our present morally ambiguous world. Set in lands ranging from England to China, South America, the Middle East, and Africa, these powerfully themed stories follow ordinary people as they try to survive and make sense of their worlds.
We follow a well-intentioned English family who leave their tour group in China to travel alone, and collide with the ruthless side of the country, slowly becoming complicit in its violence; a ploddingly respectable London lawyer who chances upon a stash of cocaine and realizes it offers the wealth and status he hungers for; a salesman in Africa who becomes caught up in a riot that turns his life upside down; a self-doubting suicide bomber.
Kneale transports readers across continents in a nanosecond, reaching to the heart of faraway societies with rare perceptiveness. As the stories gain momentum — tense, funny, and always compassionate — they make readers see the world in a new way. At times reminiscent of Julian Barnes’s A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, at times Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, Small Crimes In An Age of Abundance is a groundbreaking book, by a master narrator of the uncertainties of our time.
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Fans of Matthew Kneale's historical saga, English Passengers, which won the 2000 Whitbread Book of the Year Award and was short-listed for the Booker Prize, be forewarned. A short story collection, such as Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance, is very different. That said, relax and enjoy the fact that Matthew Kneale has mastered both genres. This collection of 12 stories is unified and bound thematically by the portrayal of people on the cusp of a new awareness of the trajectory of their lives, or by a moment or event that changes the equation for them. The stories take place all over the world: China, Ethiopia, Africa, the Middle East, and South America. For some, it is the dislocation of being in a strange place that causes the introspection necessary for change. For others, no external change takes place, but the interior landscape is forever altered.
In the first story, "Stone," a conventional English family, used to traveling with a "tour firm," goes off on their own with dire consequences, not for themselves, but for a hapless young man they think stole from them. This isn't a language problem; it is cultural difference writ large. In "Leaves," gringo planes spray pesticide destroying most of the crops in a Colombian valley, forcing relocation on those who live there. One family is saved by their old grandfather who steals coca plants, the only crop that was saved, from a neighbor. In "Metal," an arms supplier from Great Britain is caught up in a demonstration in Africa, bloodied with a nightstick and brought face to face with violence and terrorism. The morning after, awakening in the safety of his hotel, "He knew, without a shadow of doubt, that his life would never be the same. He would give up his job. He would change everything." But, does he? The final story, "White," is one that will not be forgotten. A young Palestinian suicide bomber, with explosives strapped to his body, makes his way to Tel Aviv to kill himself and as many people as possible. He is crippled by doubt and fear as he recalls his brother's call from Canada telling him of his new life there and inviting him to join him.
Kneale has captured in these stories the complexity of the world and the ways that people cope--or not--showcasing situations of moral ambiguity where roads not taken make all the difference. --Valerie RyanAbout the Author:
Matthew Kneale is the author of several novels, including, most recently, English Passengers, which won the Whitbread Book of the Year 2000 award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. He lives in Rome, Italy.
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