Disarmingly plainspoken narration brings into sharp relief both individuals and a world in wartime crisis.

WHITE SHADOW

The second novel in Jacobsen’s Ingrid Barrøy trilogy is set during Norway’s World War II occupation by Germany, telescoping the national predicament through the narrow lens of a solitary woman’s experience.

Seasons, representing both change and constancy, are again Jacobsen’s central organizing principle, this time covering not generations but one year. A decade after The Unseen (2020) ended, most inhabitants of Barrøy, an island in a remote archipelago, have scattered. Only Ingrid, now 35, remains to follow an isolated, hand-to-mouth routine. Jacobsen built the earlier novel upon an accumulation of small daily moments, but Norway’s German occupation offers more conventional drama. Germans are stationed on the main island, a hard boat ride away but within Ingrid’s sight. In late autumn she is jolted when bodies in tattered, unrecognizable uniforms mysteriously turn up on Barrøy. One is barely alive. Ingrid nurses him and they become lovers in an intense idyll that can’t last. Days after he escapes (with her help), she awakens in a faraway hospital room with no memory of what happened in the days since their farewell. With her doctor’s help, she recovers shards of memory about a visit from a German officer and local police chief searching for her soldier, who was probably a Russian POW; but she resists remembering too much. Back on Barrøy by early winter, she is joined by her aunt Barbro, who intuits that Ingrid is pregnant. As more memories return, Ingrid worries the father might be one of the men who visited, but what happened with them is discussed only obliquely. This is minimalist fiction with a protagonist of impressive competence—traveling home on a whaler filled with ragged evacuees from Finland and Lapland, Ingrid takes charge of their care, then helps them settle on the main island—but with little interest in revealing herself. And yet Ingrid is a kind of magnet. Her doctor is attracted to her “intuitive” intelligence, as are the whaler’s captain and several youthful evacuees who move to the island to fish and help Ingrid build a new house. Before long, Barrøy's former inhabitants also begin to trickle home, creating new dramas and possibilities.

Disarmingly plainspoken narration brings into sharp relief both individuals and a world in wartime crisis.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-77196-403-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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 whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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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