Murray, Sabina 1968–

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Murray, Sabina 1968–

PERSONAL: Born 1968; married John Hennessey (a poet); children: two sons. Education: Mt. Holyoke College, B.A., 1989; University of Texas, M.A., 1994.

ADDRESSES: Office—Department of English, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01002. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Author and educator. Phillips Academy, Andover, MA, Roger Murray writer-in-residence, 2000–03; University of Massachusetts, Amherst, instructor in M.F.A. program, beginning 2003.

AWARDS, HONORS: Michener fellow, University of Texas; Bunting fellow, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University; PEN/Faulkner Award, 2003, for The Caprices.

WRITINGS:

Slow Burn (novel), Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1990.

The Caprices (stories), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.

A Carnivore's Inquiry (novel), Grove Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Author of screenplay Beautiful Country. Contributor to periodicals and literary journals, including Ploughshares, New England Review, and Ontario Review.

SIDELIGHTS: Sabina Murray is a novelist and short story writer whose first collection, The Caprices, was honored with the 2003 PEN/Faulkner Award. Murray was raised in Australia and the Philippines, and her work springs from her past. Her first novel, Slow Burn, is set in contemporary Manila, and is the story of the beautiful Isobel della Fortuna, a drug-addicted young woman who pairs up with Paul Aguilar, son of the Philippine opposition leader.

Murray's mother was a child at the time of the Japanese occupation of Manila during World War II, and Murray's paternal grandfather and uncle were imprisoned, never to be heard from again. The nine stories in The Caprices are set during that period, and take place in Southeast Asia, the United States, and Australia. Murray was moved to write them to define war and the people who suffer from it.

Ploughshares contributor Debra Spark wrote that the stories in The Caprices "are first and foremost about the ironies, humiliations, and brutalities of war. Murray is unsparing in her vision of starvation, death, and disease…. And yet, Murray's tight writing, her powerful sense of story, and her passionate urgency prevent tragedy from subsuming art, from making the book too lugubrious to press on." A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that Murray "also handles humor with laudable finesse, using it to separate those characters who can still appreciate it from those who now find laughter unfamiliar and awkward."

In the story "Guinea," an Italian-American soldier and an Irish Bostonian struggle to survive in the jungle with their Japanese prisoner, while in "Order of Precedence," Harry Gillen, a Scottish-Indian prisoner, recalls his polo-playing days in Calcutta, and how his superior, Major Berystede, blocked his admission for membership in a gentlemen's club. Claire Messud, who called "Order of Precedence" "one of the strongest" in her review of The Caprices for the New York Times Book Review, added that "the ambiguities and snobberies of the prewar Raj are recreated as vividly as the equalizing deprivation of the prison camp where Harry and Berystede are reunited…. Murray leaps from past to present, conveying a great deal of experience and emotion … with an intriguingly ragged efficiency."

From the same collection, the final days of Amelia Earhart are envisioned in "Folly," while in "Colossus" an aging American veteran recalls the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and the death march of 1941. In her foreword to The Caprices, Murray notes that the title story could be set in peacetime. Its characters include a young girl named Trinidad and Shori, a Japanese servant, along with the clubfooted Jose, a deranged woman locked away in the basement, and a ghost that visits Trinidad's grandmother.

In her fiction, noted Messud, Murray "illuminates in dark, at times near gothic, splendor her unsparing vision…. Unflinching, these brimming, sometimes jagged stories endure powerfully in the reader's memory as they reach across continents and time with precision and—in the heart of darkness—a measure of grace."

Murray's 2004 novel does not find the author repeating herself. It is, as a contributor to Publishers Weekly commented in an interview with Murray, a "gloriously written psychological thriller about the ultimate off-the-charts subject—cannibalism." The novel features Katherine Shea, a twenty-three-year-old woman with an obsession and fascination for cannibalism. She seems to know everything about the subject in art, literature, and folklore. Just returned from a year in Italy, she meets and quickly moves in with a much older writer, talks him into renting her a cottage in Maine, and then proceeds to have a succession of young men visit her there, all of whom disappear. Slowly the reader begins to wonder if Katherine's obsession with cannibalism does not go deeper than artistic appreciation. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the novel "mesmerizing," and further acknowledged that Murray "paces her psychological thriller with consummate control."

Speaking with the Publishers Weekly interviewer, Murray noted of the inspiration for her work: "I try to write books that move me, books that disturb me. I've always liked scary stuff."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Murray, Sabina, The Caprices, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.

PERIODICALS

Entertainment Weekly, July 15, 2005, Liza Schwazbaum, review of Beautiful Country, p. 53.

Kliatt, November, 2004, Nola Theiss, review of A Carnivore's Inquiry, p. 42.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 12, 2003, Gloria Emerson, review of The Caprices, p. R13.

New York Times Book Review, Claire Messud, review of The Caprices, p. 16.

Ploughshares, spring, 2002, Debra Spark, review of The Caprices, p. 202.

Publishers Weekly, June 15, 1990, Penny Kaganoff, review of Slow Burn, p. 65; January 7, 2002, review of The Caprices, p. 49; May 31, 2004, review of The Carnivore's Inquiry, p. 49; August 2, 2004, "Sabina Murray: The Hunger Artist," interview with Murray, p. 47.

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