cover image Tales of the Night

Tales of the Night

Peter Heg, Peter Hoeg. Farrar Straus Giroux, $23 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-374-27254-8

Originally published in Denmark in 1990, before HYeg's 1993 bestseller, Smilla's Sense of Snow, these eight stories take us to eight separate corners of the world on the night of March 19, 1929, a sort of universal Black Monday of the soul. In ""Journey into a Dark Heart,"" a young Danish mathematician falls in with Joseph Conrad on a train trip up the heart of the war-torn Congo; ""Hommage a Bournonville"" follows star-crossed love into the esoteric world of Danish ballet; in ""An Experiment on the Continuity of Love,"" a female scientist investigates the decay of sexual attraction by an unusual method. It's all heavily symbolic stuff, unabashedly reminiscent of Conrad, Kafka and other early-20th-century masters. Despite a certain stiffness in the prose (the fault of the translation, perhaps), the deep despair and foreboding of well-intentioned Europeans victimized by the very culture that was supposed to educate them is often painfully credible. Potent but problematic, this collection lays bare the difficulties of love, even if it must make do without the dazzling lucidity of HYeg's more recent works. (Feb.)