"Loss, temporary and permanent, physical and emotional, is the hard, gleaming thread tying together Laken's short-story collection... An absorbing literary exploration of the geography of loss."
"Laken demonstrates that all of us are in some way isolated from others, trapped in our own thoughts, our own hurts, our own bodies. In setting her stories alternately in Russia and the United States, Laken shows that borders and oceans create less of a gulf than does the tiny space between two people. Bridging that chasm is our greatest challenge."
"Fine craftsmanship and powerful insight."
-- Alan Cheuse, The Chicago Tribune
"A taut, beautiful book about very human characters struggling to find connection and to make sense of the lives that they’ve almost unexpectedly found themselves living."
-- Adam Eaglin, KGB Bar Lit Magazine
"Vivid and evocative, these stories will appeal to readers of both popular and literary fiction."
"A work of daunting versatility and technical skill, the product of a writer absolutely at home in the language and working vigorously within both new and old forms... This is a writer of wonderful gifts."
-- Michael Byers, author of Percival's Planet and Long for This World
“This is a pitch-perfect collection, searching and graceful, containing just the right mixture of intelligence and heart. The separate kingdoms Valerie Laken writes about are not only America and Russia, the countries where her stories take place, but also the innermost minds of any two human beings, and the different ways we experience the world before and after a catastrophe. All of the characters in this book are missing something deeply important to them – children or pets, spells of time or pieces of their own bodies. In Laken’s skillful and compassionate hands, though, they are never less than whole.”
"Valerie Laken proves herself again to be a writer of vast compassion, and dead-on accuracy, in these stories. Separate Kingdoms is a travel through the human psyche, but it is so rawly full of vivid places and pitch-perfect dialogue and sensory detail that you know you are in the visceral world of the characters as well as their minds. There are only eight stories here, but each one is so rich, so textured and nuanced, that I felt I'd dwelled among these familiar strangers in their kingdoms for a sumptuous period of years, and yet I started the collection again as soon as I had finished it, recalling things I felt an urgent need to read again. Valerie Laken takes aim at the human experience, and does not shoot. Instead, she steps forward, into places we wouldn't dare, and lays them bare for the reader. This is life-changing work, the kind of reading one longs for and so rarely finds."
“What I find so striking about this book is the way that separate worlds--seemingly foreign or even bizarre to each other -- are brought together and forced to converse, to try to love each other. There is considerable erotic energy in such a meeting. The imagination in these stories often does what it can to heal a wound or a rift, and so the stores often have an amazing poignancy that never lapses into the maudlin.”
--Charles Baxter, author of The Feast of Love and Gryphon
“Beyond the luminous prose, the shining intelligence (as opposed to mere cleverness) and narrative boldness, what I perhaps prize most in Valerie Laken's work is an empathy that knows no boundaries. She conjures her disparate figures and settings with a clear-eyed authenticity that goes beyond mere detail, arrowing in on the emotional truth of a character or situation."
—Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl
"Valerie Laken writes about the emotionally and physically maimed with a startling poignancy. Blind Russians, handicapped golfers, college exchange students, seizure victims: Laken can do it all. Separate Kingdoms is, quite simply, a wonderful collection."