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AFTERLIVES

A novel with an epic feel, even at 320 pages, building a complex, character-based story that stretches over generations.

Pensive novel of desperate lives in colonial East Africa by 2021 Nobel Prize–winning writer Gurnah.

Where is Ilyas Hassan? That’s the central question that runs through Tanzanian British author Gurnah’s new novel, one that occupies its four principal characters. The oldest is Khalifa, who “did not look Indian, or not the kind of Indian they were used to seeing in that part of the world,” the product of an African mother and Gujarati father. Khalifa is but one of many Gujarati settlers around Zanzibar, territory taken by Germany in the “Scramble for Africa.” The Germans are not kind: By their lights, they “had to make the Africans feel the clenched fist of German power in order that they should learn to bear the yoke of their servitude compliantly.” Ilyas, a young migrant, is pressed into service in the schutztruppe, the colonial army, sent off to fight against first native peoples and then, as World War I erupts, the British. A younger man named Hamza also enlists, “silently wretched about what he had done.” Brutalized by a German officer in his unit, Hamza deserts and returns home and finds work in the same commercial enterprise as Ilyas and Khalifa, who has married a woman who is convinced that she is “surrounded by blasphemers,” a pious holy terror who reveals hidden depths. Gurnah’s story is an understated study in personality; the action is sparing, the reaction nuanced and wholly believable, and the love story that develops between Hamza and a young woman named Afiya touching: “ ‘I have nothing,’ he said. ‘Nor do I,’ she said. ‘We’ll have nothing together.’ ” The denouement, too, is unexpected, the story drawn to a close by two Ilyases: the original and Hamza’s son, who bears his name. Gurnah’s novel pairs well with Cameroon writer Patrice Nganang’s novel A Trail of Crab Tracks as a document of the colonial experience, and it is impeccably written.

A novel with an epic feel, even at 320 pages, building a complex, character-based story that stretches over generations.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-59354-1-883

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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JUST FOR THE SUMMER

A wallowing, emotionally wrenching family drama that leaves little time for romance.

Two people with bad luck in relationships find each other through a popular Reddit thread.

Emma Grant and her best friend, Maddy, are travel nurses, working at hospitals for three-month stints while they see the country. Just a few weeks before they’re set to move to Hawaii, Emma reads a popular “Am I the Asshole” Reddit thread from a Minnesota man who thinks he’s cursed—women he dates find their soulmates after breaking up with him, and the latest one found true love with his best friend! Emma has had a similar experience, which inspires her to DM the man and commiserate. She’s delighted by her witty, lively interactions with software engineer Justin Dahl, and is intrigued when he suggests that if they date each other, maybe they’ll each find their soulmate afterward. Emma upends the Hawaii plan and convinces Maddy to move to Minneapolis for the summer so she can meet Justin in person. The overly complex setup brings Emma and Justin together and the two hit it off, with Justin immediately falling head over heels for Emma. Jimenez then pivots to creating romantic roadblocks and melodramatic subplots centering on each character’s family of origin. Justin’s mother is about to serve six years in prison for embezzlement, which means Justin must move back home to care for his three much younger siblings. Emma was traumatized by her own mother for much of her childhood, left to fend for herself and eventually abandoned in the foster system. When her mother shows up in Minnesota, Emma must face her traumatic childhood and admit that she has prioritized her mother’s well-being over her own. There is little time devoted to Emma’s painful efforts to heal herself enough to accept Justin’s love, which leaves the novel feeling unsatisfying.

A wallowing, emotionally wrenching family drama that leaves little time for romance.

Pub Date: April 2, 2024

ISBN: 9781538704431

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Forever

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2024

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