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With our uncertain footing in the Middle East, who doesn’t long for the good ol’ days, when scrub-cheeked newsboys called out the latest victory of freedom, gals with coiled hair penciled seams down their calves to conserve silk, and Woody Guthrie sang about the Marines killing 400 Japanese “On the Road to Tokio”? Back in those days, the enemy was plain, Rosie was riveting, and the Pacific Islands were a smattering of bombed cities and overcrowded prison camps. In her PEN/Faulkner Award–winning 2002 collection of short stories, The Caprices, Sabina Murray reminds us that the “good ol’ days” are a trick of hindsight and that shades of gray were just as rich before color television. Raised in Australia and the Philippines, Murray sketches narratives that focus sharply on that one damn detail that has always kept life from simplicity: the human being. The title story toggles between an orphaned Filipino girl and the disconnected Japanese officer who will come into violent contact with her; surprisingly, each character is at once sympathetic and unlikable. In “Colossus,” an American vet remembers the Bataan Death March as fragments of sound, scent, and scene: “He was only eighteen and thought that he was fresh, new. His mother had called his enlistment ‘a waste of sweet youth.’ She had been slicing apples for a pie and in his mind his sweet youth had become one with the smell of apples.” The would-be-obvious allusion is unexpected and graceful: a symbol of American heartiness becomes a bittersweet symbol for a young man who believes the enemy has won. Murray reads with Thomas Mallon at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 16, at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 E. Capitol St. SE. $15. (202) 544-7077. (Anne Marson)