A difficult but ultimately rewarding meditation on the tolls that capitalism and misogyny take on a fledgling nation's soul.

THIS MOURNABLE BODY

A haunting, incisive, and timely glimpse into how misogyny and class strife shape life in post-colonial Zimbabwe.

Returning to characters she first introduced in her debut novel, Nervous Conditions (1988), Zimbabwean author Dangarembga situates us in the mind of Tambudzai Sigauke, an educated but insecure and selfish young woman who is plummeting rapidly down her nation's class hierarchy. Bitter after leaving her job at an ad agency “over a matter of mere principle,” Tambudzai takes up residence at a hostel while she hatches a scheme to claw her way back up the social ladder. Her scheming eventually takes her to a high school teaching job, where the pressures of teaching unruly students tax her fragile mental health. Driven to rage by her inability to command her students' respect, Tambudzai brutally beats and injures a student named Elizabeth Chinembiri. The event triggers a mental breakdown and sets Tambudzai on a tragic collision course with her estranged family. Narrated in the second person from Tambudzai's perspective, the novel collapses the distance between its readers and its antihero ("You spend most of your time sitting on your bed, brooding over your new misjudgement"). The effect is claustrophobic and alarming, as the reader becomes implicated in Tambudzai's conniving—and sometimes outright immoral—behavior. When she participates in a mob's fevered sexual assault of a female hostel roommate, conspires to lure a married man into infidelity, or steals vegetables from her landlady's garden, it's not just Tambudzai who performs these actions—it's you. Tambudzai's behavior is so persistently self-centered that she can be somewhat flat and unappealing; social advancement is her only motivation, and it can be difficult to sympathize with a character whose moral compass is so degraded. Her flatness is easy to overlook, however, because this novel's true protagonist is the entire nation of Zimbabwe. Tambudzai becomes a stand-in for a society struggling to gain its footing and maintain its soul amid the trauma of civil war and economic and political instability. In terse, stark prose that paints a brutally realist portrait of post-colonial Zimbabwe, Dangarembga turns an appraising eye upon her nation in order to investigate the various inequalities that lie at its heart. This novel's Zimbabwe is a nation populated by cruel mobs, exploitative entrepreneurs, and mercenaries who care only about themselves. Her incisive realism is most effective when dealing with misogyny, especially the vicious violence inflicted on women's bodies. The mournable body of the novel's title turns out to be the collective body of Zimbabwean women.

A difficult but ultimately rewarding meditation on the tolls that capitalism and misogyny take on a fledgling nation's soul.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-55597-812-9

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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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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