A remarkable work of the imagination—and, yes, memory.

IN MEMORY OF MEMORY

A brilliant evocation of the last years of the Soviet Union, extending deep into the past.

In a work that crosses the boundaries of fiction and nonfiction, Russian poet and journalist Stepanova recounts the lives of her ancestors, rural Russian Jews who, on moving to Moscow, could never quite go home again. She opens with Galya, an aunt whose relationship with her brother, Stepanova’s father, was strained: “There was an uneasiness between the families and a history of perceived snubs.” Galya nevertheless shared with her niece a constantly renovated series of collections, just this side of hoarding, as well as her favorite chocolates; on her death, a vast archive of notebooks, diaries, newspaper clippings, and other such documents that she had assembled to record “the oval shape of her life” and that remind Stepanova of “chain-link fencing” provide clues for Stepanova’s investigations. Alone in Moscow after her parents immigrate to Germany, she attempts to make sense of her family and their stories, some of which emerge from her aunt’s records, others from her own inquiries and travels. At the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., a curator attempts to shut her down, but she will have none of it: “One of those books where the author travels around the world in search of his or her roots—there are plenty of those now,” he says dismissively of her project. She answers, “Yes....And now there will be one more.” Apart from delivering a mine of family and national history, Stepanova exercises a well-honed sense of the apposite literary allusion (“The chimneys in the view from the window resembled flowerpots, Kafka said something similar about them”). Stretching from the days before Lenin took power to the “Doctor’s Plot” and the collapse of the USSR and beyond, Stepanova’s book is lyrical and philosophical throughout, as when she writes, toward the end, “Sometimes it seems like it is only possible to love the past if you know it is definitely never going to return.”

A remarkable work of the imagination—and, yes, memory.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2883-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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