The two long stories that bracket the collection offer daring fictional interpretations of devastating wars. In the opening story, a British businessman relies on the sporting spirit to try to prevent the outbreak of the Second World War; in the title story, a battered foreign correspondent, shaken by his encounter with a band’s disturbing groupie, must face his own truth about ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.
A Grave in the Air broadens and deepens the vision of Henighan’s earlier work, witnessed in The Places Where Names Vanish and The Streets of Winter. Once again, his understanding of peoples and cultures is as sharp and intuitive as his depictions of the worlds that shape them.
The title story brings all these themes skilfully together when Latifa, a young Bosnian Muslim living in Germany, learns her family history from Darryl, a Canadian ex-journalist who would rather forget the former Yugoslavia….The happiness of both depends on their shared journey into memory, however difficult, and on accepting the terrible past.
This is the most poignant of Henighan’s themes: the importance of human action in the face of a terrible political and historical impotence (despite what the reader already knows to be the truth). He is not shy of the twentieth century’s big subjects, and he puts them to effective use. “The Killing Past,” which opens the book, and the title story, which closes it, are especially successful at bringing out the strange tension of tales whose outcomes are already known to us through history…. We ourselves are never foreign to these tales of foreignness.