Kawakami marks the literary map of Japan with a warning that beyond here lie dragons—or snakes and ghosts, at any rate....

RECORD OF A NIGHT TOO BRIEF

A supersurreal triad of stories from Japanese novelist Kawakami (The Nakano Thrift Shop, 2017, etc.).

Kawakami, winner of the Akutagawa Prize, delivers three evocative tales that, as if from the notebooks of Kafka, concern strange transformations that happen to perfectly ordinary people going about their lives. In the title story, the narrator feels an itch—and then is suddenly galloping down the streets and amazing the onlookers. “That’s a sight you don’t see every day,” says one, and when the poor changeling tries to respond “Get the fuck outta here,” it becomes apparent that, yes, our narrator, gender uncertain and in any event provisional, has turned into a horse. It’s the first of many transformations in a dream that turns to horror, with talking dolls, shriekingly accusatory macaques, and ranting kiwis. In a closing moment, while the landscape is being scraped clean to make a town, the narrator has become a tree, and more: “Then I grew old, very old, and rotted away.” The narrator’s lot is no better or worse than those of the characters in the succeeding stories. “Missing” is an enigmatic fable in which people and huge porcelain vases alike go disappearing in the night, while those left on this plane say bizarre things: “My love for you,” says a matter-of-fact bridegroom (by proxy, as it happens), “is wider even than the floor area of the largest apartment in this apartment complex.” The narrator of the closing story, meanwhile, might want a similarly large space in which to hide in a world where everyone and everything, it seems, is a snake in disguise—including, in the end, that very narrator, a young woman who lies in the darkness “experiencing in equal parts a sense of dread and a sense of calm expectation, the tears falling, as the night continued to deepen.”

Kawakami marks the literary map of Japan with a warning that beyond here lie dragons—or snakes and ghosts, at any rate. Astonishing, strange, and wonderful.

Pub Date: Dec. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-78227-271-7

Page Count: 158

Publisher: Pushkin Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2017

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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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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