A gemlike, melancholy novel infused with personal and national history.

TOKYO UENO STATION

A ghost haunts a Tokyo train station, with history and tragedy much on his mind.

Kazu, the late narrator of Yu’s second novel to be translated into English, spent his life as an itinerant laborer, one of eight children who moved from his home in Fukushima to help build facilities for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. (Fukushima was the epicenter of the 2011 nuclear power-plant disaster, which also plays into the story.) Kazu recalls pieces of his life in digressive fashion as he wanders the grounds of a homeless encampment near a busy Tokyo train station. He listens in on conversations and recalls how he himself wound up residing there. His mood is scattered (“noises, colors, and smells are all mixed up, gradually fading away, shrinking”), but it’s soon clear in this brief, piercing novel that Kazu is circling around a series of heartbreaks, and when Yu finally hits on them—Kazu's separation from his family for work, the death of his son, the financial desperation that led to his homelessness—the novel gains a pathos and focus that justify its more abstract and lyrical early passages. As Kazu chronicles the funeral rites and his own fallen fortunes, the novel becomes a somber cross section of Japanese society, from the underclass to salarymen to the royal family to the homeless people subject to the whims of government (like the potential closure of the camp due to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics). Yu’s first novel in English, Gold Rush (2002), was a hyperviolent, American Psycho–esque tale of Yokohama street youth. This more restrained and mature novel is a subtle series of snapshots of “someone who has lost the capacity to exist, now ceaselessly thinking, ceaselessly feeling.”

A gemlike, melancholy novel infused with personal and national history.

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-08802-9

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

WISH YOU WERE HERE

A young woman finds herself at a Covid-induced crossroads in Picoult’s latest ultratopical novel.

Sotheby’s associate Diana O'Toole, age 29, and her surgical resident boyfriend, Finn, are planning a trip to the Galapagos in March 2020. But as New York City shuts down, Finn is called to do battle against Covid-19 in his hospital’s ICU and ER, while Diana, at his urging, travels to the archipelago alone. She arrives on Isabela Island just as quarantine descends and elects to stay, though her luggage was lost, her hotel is shuttered, and her Spanish is “limited.” What follows is the meticulously researched depiction Picoult readers have come to expect, of the flora and fauna of this island and both its paradisiacal and dangerous aspects. Beautiful lagoons hide riptides, spectacular volcanic vistas conceal deep pits—and penguins bite! A hotel employee known only as Abuela gives Diana shelter at her home. Luckily, Abuela’s grandson Gabriel, a former tour guide, speaks flawless English, as does his troubled daughter, Beatriz, 14, who was attending school off-island when the pandemic forced her back home. Beatriz and Diana bond over their distant and withholding mothers: Diana’s is a world-famous photographer now consigned to a memory care facility with early-onset Alzheimer’s, while Beatriz’s ran off with a somewhat less famous photographer. Despite patchy cellphone signals and Wi-Fi, emails from Finn break through, describing, also in Picoult’s spare-no-detail starkness, the horrors of his long shifts as the virus wreaks its variegated havoc and the cases and death toll mount. Diana is venturing into romantically and literally treacherous waters when Picoult yanks this novel off life-support by resorting to a flagrantly hackneyed plot device. Somehow, though, it works, thanks again to that penchant for grounding every fictional scenario in thoroughly documented fact. Throughout, we are treated to pithy if rather self-evident thematic underscoring, e.g. “You can’t plan your life….Because then you have a plan. Not a life.”

Warning: Between lurid scenes of plague and paradise, whiplash may ensue.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984818-41-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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