A startling way to teach an old lesson: an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

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FRANKENSTEIN IN BAGHDAD

A horrifying creature stalks the bombed-out streets of postwar Baghdad, seeking vengeance.

This outrageously adroit horror metaphor deservedly won author Saadawi (Indeed He Dreams or Plays or Dies, 2008, etc.) the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction and now arrives on Western shores with a deft translation by Wright (The Longing of the Dervish, 2016, etc.). The book chronicles the unexpected exploits of Hadi, a rag-and-bone man barely tolerated in his war-torn neighborhood. We the readers are basically eavesdropping as Hadi tells his bizarre tale to local journalist Mahmoud al-Samedi. When Hadi’s assistant, Nahem, dies in a car bombing, the junkman nobly goes to collect the body for burial only to find an assortment of body parts from a variety of people. “I made it complete so it wouldn’t be treated as trash, so it would be respected like other dead people and given a proper burial,” Hadi says in explaining the Frankenstein’s monster–like creature he assembles. But this being a horror tale, the spirit of a young man named Hasib Mohamed Jaafar takes root in the creature, which Hadi takes to calling “Whatsitsname.” And Whatsitsname is mad, too, killing those responsible for the deaths embodied in its parts. As it replaces rotting body parts and continues its mission, it becomes stronger, deadlier, and more articulate. “With the help of God and of heaven, I will take revenge on all the criminals,” it swears. “I will finally bring about justice on earth, and there will no longer be a need to wait in agony for justice to come, in heaven or after death.” As a metaphor for the cycle of violence, it’s quite nuanced, but Saadawi’s black sense of humor and grotesque imagery keep the novel grounded in its genre. Call it “Gothic Arabesque,” but this haunting novel brazenly confronts the violence visited upon this country by those who did not call it home.

A startling way to teach an old lesson: an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-14-312879-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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