A searing, eye-opening tale of innocence destroyed.

AT NIGHT ALL BLOOD IS BLACK

Alfa Ndiaye, a young Senegalese man recruited into the French army as a rifleman, confronts the madness of World War I and his role in that madness.

The book opens on a note of anguish, with Alfa recalling his shameful inability to help his childhood friend Mademba Diop, who was eviscerated on the battlefield. Mademba begged Alfa to end his suffering by slitting his throat, but Alfa couldn't bring himself to do that to his "more-than-brother." Tormented by the failure, Alfa took it out on the enemy by sneaking across "pools of blood" every night to gut German soldiers with his machete. At first, Alfa's fellow "Chocolats," as they were known, were impressed by his boldness and cunning. But his strange practice of bringing back each victim's severed hand with the rifle it fired convinced them he was an evil sorcerer. Alfa, who had never previously stepped outside his village, tells of his beautiful mother, who abandoned him when he was a boy to search for her father, a shepherd, and never returned; Alfa's own father, who had three other wives; and the village chief's daughter, who risked her father's wrath by making love to Alfa before he went off to war because, as he says, "to die without knowing all of the pleasures of the body isn’t fair." French West African writer Diop's short but emotionally packed second novel illuminates an underreported chapter in French and Senegalese history. Part folklore, part existential howl, and part prose poem, it is a heartbreaking account of pointless suffering. Ultimately, Alfa is left wondering why his physical power can't translate into "peace, tranquility and calm." Though God is ever present in Alfa's thoughts, he can't help but ask why God "lags behind us."

A searing, eye-opening tale of innocence destroyed.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-26697-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A SLOW FIRE BURNING

A young man has been stabbed to death on a houseboat...that much is clear.

Hawkins' third novel, after her smash debut with The Girl on the Train (2015) and a weak follow-up with Into the Water (2017), gets off to a confusing start. A series of vignettes introduce numerous characters—Irene, Deidre, Laura, Miriam, Daniel (dead), Carla, Theo, Angela (dead)—all of whom live or lived in a very small geographical area and have overlapping connections and reasons to be furious at each other. We can all agree that the main question is who killed Daniel, the 23-year-old on the houseboat, but it is soon revealed that his estranged mother had died just a few weeks earlier—a drunk who probably fell, but maybe was pushed, down the stairs—and his cousin also fell to his death some years back. Untimely demise runs in the family. The highlight of these goings-on is Laura, a tiny but ferocious young woman who was seen running from Daniel's boat with blood on her mouth and clothes the last night he was alive. Physically and mentally disabled by an accident in her childhood, Laura is so used to being accused and wronged (and actually she is quite the sticky fingers) that she's not surprised when she's hauled in for Daniel's murder, though she's pretty sure she didn't do it. The secondary crimes and subplots include abduction, sexual assault, hit-and-run, petty larceny, plagiarism, bar brawling, breaking and entering, incest, and criminal negligence, and on top of all this there's a novel within a novel that mirrors events recalled in flashback by one of the characters. When Irene reads it, she's infuriated by "all the to-ing and fro-ing, all that jumping around in the timeline....Just start at the beginning, for god's sake. Why couldn't people just tell a story straight any longer, start to finish?" Hmmmmm.

Overkill.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1123-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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