An impressively quiet book that addresses important themes with intelligence and empathy.

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BY THE SEA

East African novelist Gurnah (Paradise, 1994, etc.) luminously weaves together themes of alienation, treachery, and despair, in a story about two political exiles, in a drab English seaside town, whoat last find forgiveness and understanding.

When aging Saleh Omar, a Zanzibar native, arrives in England seeking asylum, he claims not to speak English. He also calls himself Rajab Shaaban, a name he has borrowed for reasons that soon become clear. As Omar settles into a small apartment provided by immigration authorities, he spends his days checking out the local furniture stores and recalling the past. He recalls the prosperous furniture shop he ran, the loan he secured for Hussein, a seafaring merchant from Bahrain, that would cause him and the story's other protagonist so much trouble. Meanwhile, poet and professor Latif Mahmud, also from Zanzibar, having been alerted by the authorities that a fellow Zanzibari might need help with translation, looks back at his own past. As order broke down in Zanzibar after it gained independence from Britain, Latif accepted a scholarship to study in the former East Germany, escaping soon after to Britain. He still holds Omar responsible for his family’s decline: his mother took lovers, his father became an alcoholic, and their house was repossessed. When the two men finally remeet, the embittered Latif accuses Omar not only of stealing his father’s name, Rajab Shabaan, but his property. Omar then relates how he honorably inherited the Shabaan property only to lose it; how, in the political turmoil, he was imprisoned on false charges by Latif’s family; how he belatedly learned of the death of his wife and only child; and how he managed to escape further persecution by fleeing under an assumed name. With these confessions, both men find a satisfying cloture with hints of fuller lives to come.

An impressively quiet book that addresses important themes with intelligence and empathy.

Pub Date: June 11, 2001

ISBN: 1-56584-658-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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