Tales of the New World
In ten short stories, some as short as seven pages and others over seventy pages, Sabina Murray considers the motivations, fascinations, and inner demons of various explorers. New World in this context does not refer to the traditional European idea of the Americas. Indeed, Murray’s longest story, “Fish,” features Mary Kingsley, an English woman who defied Victorian strictures by exploring and writing about West Africa. In “Paradise,” Murray writes about Jim Jones, comparing him to Hitler, Pol Pot, and Idi Amin. And in “Periplus” Murray gets inside the head of a Jesuit seminarian contemplating the library’s holdings. Then there are stories of men who explored Australia such as William Dampier and Edward John Eyre. Of course some of Murray’s short stories do concern the Americas such as “Translation” about Magellan, “Balboa” about the explorer of the same name who crossed the isthmus of Panama to find the Pacific Ocean, and “Last Days,” which is a conversation between Texcoco ruler, Nezahualpilli, and the king of the Aztecs, Motecuhzoma.
Murray’s detached writing style made it difficult for me to feel engaged with her characters. Especially in “Fish” so often I almost began to care for Mary Kingsley before the narrative pulled back and left me feeling that Murray had missed the opportunity to develop Mary Kingsley as in interesting character.