In a knife-edged, poignant debut, Brooklyn-based Verdelle cuts to the heart and innermost thoughts of a black girl—a girl coming of age in 1960's Detroit—who struggles against racial limits and family entrapments to develop a mind yearning for fulfillment. When Denise's mother, Margarete, freshly widowed, leaves Denise with her grandmother in rural Virginia, the little girl is heartbroken. But she adapts quickly to country ways so that when she's summoned home to Detroit several years later to help her now- pregnant mother, her near-grown older brothers, and their new stepfather, she hates to go. A short, though warm, homecoming ushers in fresh realities: Denise's superior cooking and cleaning skills clinch for her the position of family housekeeper, while her down-home speech greatly impedes her progress at school. Taken under the wing of a new and exacting teacher, Miss Gloria Pearson, Denise begins to shine as a student and to dream of a better life; but in the face of mounting chores on the arrival of Margarete's baby, along with a tense situation at home as stepfather-son relations deteriorate, Denise has to make a Hobson's choice between future and family. She finds the will to juggle her responsibilities—a triumph of determination and dignity, but one with a terrible cost as she is unable to keep her favorite, ne'er- do-well brother, Luke Edward, from harm's way. Concerned after having watched him humiliated by their grandmother for shoplifting, and later driven from home for his attitude, Denise tries to protect him when his next theft is discovered, but her warning falls on deaf ears. Both the vitality and perils of life in divided families—as well as the larger conflict between a woman's duty and desire- -receive deft, honest handling here, revealing a vibrant new voice in our midst. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1995

ISBN: 1-56512-085-X

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.


Thoughts on travel as an existential adventure from one of Poland’s most lauded and popular authors.

Already a huge commercial and critical success in her native country, Tokarczuk (House of Day, House of Night, 2003) captured the attention of Anglophone readers when this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. In addition to being a fiction writer, Tokarczuk is also an essayist and a psychologist and an activist known—and sometimes reviled—for her cosmopolitan, anti-nationalist views. Her wide-ranging interests are evident in this volume. It’s not a novel exactly. It’s not even a collection of intertwined short stories, although there are longer sections featuring recurring characters and well-developed narratives. Overall, though, this is a series of fragments tenuously linked by the idea of travel—through space and also through time—and a thoughtful, ironic voice. Movement from one place to another, from one thought to another, defines both the preoccupations of this discursive text and its style. One of the extended stories follows a man named Kunicki whose wife and child disappear on vacation—and suddenly reappear. A first-person narrator offers a sort of memoir through movement, recalling her own peregrinations bit by bit. There are pilgrims and holidaymakers. Tokarczuk also explores the connection between travel and colonialism with side trips into “exotic” practices and cabinets of curiosity. There are philosophical digressions, like a meditation on the flight from Irkutsk to Moscow that lands at the same time it takes off. None of this is to say that this book is dry or didactic. Tokarczuk has a sly sense of humor. It’s impossible not to laugh at the opening line, “I’m reminded of something that Borges was once reminded of….” Of course someone interested in maps and territories, of the emotional landscape of travel and the difference between memory and reality would feel an affinity for the Argentine fabulist.

A welcome introduction to a major author and a pleasure for fans of contemporary European literature.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-53419-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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