A stunning novel about queer love, womanhood, and personal and political revolution.

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CANTORAS

In the shadow of a violent dictatorship, five queer women find the courage and strength to live their truth.

De Robertis’ (The Gods of Tango, 2015, etc.) latest novel starts in 1977 with the Uruguayan military dictatorship suppressing dissidents and homosexuals through rape, jailing, and disappearing. Calling themselves cantoras, or women who sing, five queer women begin to carve out a place for themselves in the world: Flaca, Romina, Anita “La Venus,” Malena, and Paz. Brought together by Flaca, the women take a weeklong trip to Cabo Polonio, a sleepy, secluded coastal village, where they find a haven among horrors. On the beach, the women laugh late into the night, make love unabashedly, and share secrets over whiskey and yerba maté. The friends become family. On their first trip, Paz, the youngest, begins to discover an alternative way of being: “A secret way to be a woman. A way that blasted things apart, that melted the map of reality.” Rich and luscious, De Robertis’ writing feels like a living thing, lapping over the reader like the ocean. Carefully crafted and expertly observed, each sentence is an elegant gift: “Stars clamored around a meager slice of moon,” and “she was keenly aware of [her] movements...as if a thread stretched between them, a spider’s thread, glimmering and inexhaustibly strong.” Over the course of three decades, the women fall in and out of love; have brushes with the brutal regime; defy familial and societal expectations; and, most of all, unapologetically live their lives as cantoras. At one point, the unhappily married La Venus wonders: “Why did life put so much inside a woman and then keep her confined to smallness?” De Robertis’ novel allows these women to break those confines and find greatness in themselves and each other.

A stunning novel about queer love, womanhood, and personal and political revolution.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-52169-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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With lantern-lit tales of old China, a rich humanity, and an acute ear for bicultural tuning, a splendid first novel—one...

THE JOY LUCK CLUB

An inordinately moving, electric exploration of two warring cultures fused in love, focused on the lives of four Chinese women—who emigrated, in their youth, at various times, to San Francisco—and their very American 30-ish daughters.

Tan probes the tension of love and often angry bewilderment as the older women watch their daughters "as from another shore," and the daughters struggle to free themselves from maddening threads of arcane obligation. More than the gap between generations, more than the dwindling of old ways, the Chinese mothers most fear that their own hopes and truths—the secret gardens of the spirit that they have cultivated in the very worst of times—will not take root. A Chinese mother's responsibility here is to "give [my daughter] my spirit." The Joy Luck Club, begun in 1939 San Francisco, was a re-creation of the Club founded by Suyuan Woo in a beleaguered Chinese city. There, in the stench of starvation and death, four women told their "good stories," tried their luck with mah-jongg, laughed, and "feasted" on scraps. Should we, thought Suyuan, "wait for death or choose our own happiness?" Now, the Chinese women in America tell their stories (but not to their daughters or to one another): in China, an unwilling bride uses her wits, learns that she is "strong. . .like the wind"; another witnesses the suicide of her mother; and there are tales of terror, humiliation and despair. One recognizes fate but survives. But what of the American daughters—in turn grieved, furious, exasperated, amused ("You can't ever tell a Chinese mother to shut up")? The daughters, in their confessional chapters, have attempted childhood rebellions—like the young chess champion; ever on maternal display, who learned that wiles of the chessboard did not apply when opposing Mother, who had warned her: "Strongest wind cannot be seen." Other daughters—in adulthood, in crises, and drifting or upscale life-styles—tilt with mothers, one of whom wonders: "How can she be her own person? When did I give her up?"

With lantern-lit tales of old China, a rich humanity, and an acute ear for bicultural tuning, a splendid first novel—one that matches the vigor and sensitivity of Maxine Hong Kingston (The Warrior Woman, 1976; China Men, 1980) in her tributes to the abundant heritage of Chinese-Americans.

Pub Date: March 22, 1989

ISBN: 0143038095

Page Count: -

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1989

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