‘A Registry of my Passage upon the Earth’ by Daniel Mason – An Engaging Wide Variety of Stories


‘A Registry of my Passage upon the Earth’, stories by Daniel Mason (2020) – 231 pages

In my never-ending quest to find good fiction to read, I sometimes peruse lists like ‘Best Books of Summer 2020’ or ‘Your Summer Reading List 2020’ or, even worse, ‘Best Summer Beach Reads of 2020’. Of all the lists that I looked at, not one of them mentioned ‘A Registry of my Passage upon the Earth’ by Daniel Mason, a collection of fascinating stories that has recently come out. Perhaps I should swear off these ridiculous lists.

Daniel Mason’s goal is to produce some fine fiction, not to make some point about our world today. His goals are old-fashioned literary goals.

Nearly all his stories in this collection take place in a time and place that are remote from today.

The collection starts with a gruesome exciting wrestling match in Ireland, Jacob Burke vs Blindman McGraw, in 1824.

Then we have a story about Alfred Russel Wallace in the mid-1800s, who came up with the theory of survival of the fittest even before Charles Darwin, but was so captivated with the joy of finding new species in Indonesia that instead of formally presenting his ideas wrote them in a letter to Charles Darwin who put them in his book ‘Origin of Species’ and thus got all the credit for Wallace’s ideas.

A story about a widow deeply worried about her asthmatic young son in early 19th century London follows. Then there is a story about an uncle who immigrated to California as a child with his family from Poland who for some unusual reason participates in US Civil War re-enactments. And there are more stories.

As you can see, these stories cover a lot of territory and a wide variety of subjects. The endings of most of the stories tend to be open-ended and inconclusive which allows the readers to draw their own conclusions.

I really believe that a book that displays this much engaging variety and writerly talent should have received much more publicity and reviews than it has. I was lucky to find a good review of ‘A Registry of my Passage upon the Earth’ in The Guardian (by John Self!), the online version to which I subscribe.


Grade:    A-



2 responses to this post.

  1. I rarely bother with lists, Tony, unless they’re likely to be in my specific sphere of interest, e.g. Best Russian Books! But I’m glad you found a title you loved!



    • Yes, kaggsy, especially these summer reading lists assume that everyone wants something lighter than air to read. I do like directed lists like Best Russian Books as you mention. I also like when authors tell which books they are reading now.

      Liked by 1 person


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