Painfully honest, compassionately cognizant of human frailty and complexity, alive to the magic of creativity yet aware of...

THE END OF THE JEWS

Mansbach (Angry Black White Boy, 2004, etc.) searchingly examines the fraught relations between Jews and gentiles, blacks and whites, men and women, artists and those who nurture them.

The bravura opening set piece catches Tristan Brodsky racing through his East Bronx neighborhood in 1935. “Fifteen years old, the sum total of five thousand years of Jewry, one week into City College, a mind on him like a diamond cutter,” Tristan is an aspiring writer desperate to break free from his immigrant parents’ narrow expectations. A half-century later in Prague, teenage photographer Nina Hricek similarly burns to escape stifling communist Czechoslovakia, maybe even find the father who fled for the States five years earlier and hasn’t been heard from since. The third chapter introduces Tristan’s grandson, Tris Freedman, or RISK, as he prefers to be known in 1989, when the suburban teen spray-paints his tag on freight trains in between gigs playing hip-hop music at Connecticut bar mitzvahs. In one of the novel’s many smart, socially revealing scenes, RISK takes Grandpa—a famous novelist who’s having a bad bout of writer’s block—out to the yards with some cans of Red Devil. Rejuvenated by his contact with a new kind of culture, Tristan begins a novel that, when it’s published in 1997, completely overshadows his embittered grandson’s fiction debut. A raft of full-bodied characters helps Mansbach maintain equal interest in the separate plot lines until Nina eventually meets Tris, but the central, tragic story concerns the slow disintegration of Tristan’s marriage to Amalia, a gifted poet whose initial connection with Tristan as a fellow writer is so electric that it takes her 50 years to finally rebel against his cold, punishing ways and dedication to his work at the expense of his family. The moving, chilling final scenes suggest that Tris is the same sort of unapologetically egotistical artist.

Painfully honest, compassionately cognizant of human frailty and complexity, alive to the magic of creativity yet aware of its consequences—very exciting fiction indeed.

Pub Date: March 18, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-385-52044-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2007

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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