A fine, moving debut from a talented writer.

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THINNER THAN A HAIR

A Bosnian girl experiences offbeat love and traumatic loss in this anguished, luminous coming-of-age saga.

Fatima Begovic is a bright, inquisitive, feisty teen, fond of Jane Austen novels—“bitter stories about a kind of high-class peasantry,” as her English tutor glosses them—and Beverly Hills 90210. Growing up in a small town in Bosnia in the early ’90s, she wants nothing more than a normal life, but neither fate nor her heart’s promptings seem likely to grant it. She falls in love with a peasant named Aziz, but his lack of prospects, and certain other rumored oddities, make him a poor match in the eyes of her parents. Then there’s the gathering storm of the Yugoslavian civil war, which starts with a new requirement that Fatima register as a Muslim, proceeds through taunts and threats from local toughs and escalates to drive-by shootings and worse at the hands of Serbian militias. Fatima’s father seems paralyzed by the danger, while her mother vents her anxiety with compulsive cleaning binges, and Fatima and Aziz make the wrenching decision to leave. But while Fatima finds safety of a sort, the poverty and anomie of refugee life forces her and Aziz to follow desperate new paths. Mahmutovic, himself a Bosnian refugee, paints a raw, intimate portrait of Bosnian village life and of the seething ethnic tensions that tore it apart. He writes prose that’s sometimes subtle and delicate—“she gave the impression of a half-asleep fox from Russian stories, sly and ready to bite even when she looked tame and kind”—and sometimes sensuous and earthy, words that manage to be both psychologically acute and lyrical. Fatima’s longing for a life of warmth and vibrancy as her reality grows cold and desolate makes for an imaginative rendering of the damage wrought by racism and war.

A fine, moving debut from a talented writer.

Pub Date: April 7, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-907090-03-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Cinnamon Press

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2010

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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