THE PARIS HOURS

Despite its flaws, George’s Proustian homage to a lost time will be a Francophile’s madeleine.

Set in 1927, George’s atmospheric third novel follows the lives of four ordinary Parisians, each seeking something they lost, over the course of a summer day.

The book opens a few hours after midnight as Souren Balakian, an Armenian refugee haunted by traumatic memories of his flight from Ottoman Anatolia a decade before, prepares his puppets for his daily shows at the Jardin du Luxembourg. Impoverished painter Guillaume Blanc awakes, hungover and desperate to raise money to pay off a loan shark’s debt that is due that day. Insomniac Jean-Paul Maillard, a journalist nursing physical and emotional wounds from the Great War, comforts himself listening to the music of George Gershwin. Camille Clermont arrives at a cemetery with her young daughter, Marie, to lay flowers on the grave of her former employer, writer Marcel Proust. As the day progresses, alternating chapters interweave these characters’ pasts with their presents to gradually reveal tragedies and heart-wrenching secrets. The era’s celebrities (Josephine Baker, Gertrude Stein, Maurice Ravel, Sylvia Beach, Ernest and Pauline Hemingway) make guest appearances in a name-dropping Midnight in Paris fashion. Despite some striking moments (a badly wounded Jean-Paul is moved by an impromptu piano concert in an abandoned church by an ambulance driver who turns out to be Ravel), other encounters feel forced. Likewise, in George’s aim to get his four protagonists to the climax in a Montmartre jazz club, the loose connections he creates among them seem at times like heavy-handed contrivances. And despite the vividness of the stories being told, their power is undermined by the flatness of the character development. Still, the ambiguous ending will provide discussion fodder for reading groups.

Despite its flaws, George’s Proustian homage to a lost time will be a Francophile’s madeleine.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-30718-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

THE LITTLE LIAR

A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.

Truth and deception clash in this tale of the Holocaust.

Udo Graf is proud that the Wolf has assigned him the task of expelling all 50,000 Jews from Salonika, Greece. In that city, Nico Krispis is an 11-year-old Jewish boy whose blue eyes and blond hair deceive, but whose words do not. Those who know him know he has never told a lie in his life—“Never be the one to tell lies, Nico,” his grandfather teaches him. “God is always watching.” Udo and Nico meet, and Udo decides to exploit the child’s innocence. At the train station where Jews are being jammed into cattle cars bound for Auschwitz, Udo gives Nico a yellow star to wear and persuades him to whisper among the crowd, “I heard it from a German officer. They are sending us to Poland. We will have new homes. And jobs.” The lad doesn’t know any better, so he helps persuade reluctant Jews to board the train to hell. “You were a good little liar,” Udo later tells Nico, and delights in the prospect of breaking the boy’s spirit, which is more fun and a greater challenge than killing him outright. When Nico realizes the horrific nature of what he's done, his truth-telling days are over. He becomes an inveterate liar about everything. Narrating the story is the Angel of Truth, whom according to a parable God had cast out of heaven and onto earth, where Truth shattered into billions of pieces, each to lodge in a human heart. (Obviously, many hearts have been missed.) Truth skillfully weaves together the characters, including Nico; his brother, Sebastian; Sebastian’s wife, Fannie; and the “heartless deceiver” Udo. Events extend for decades beyond World War II, until everyone’s lives finally collide in dramatic fashion. As Truth readily acknowledges, his account is loaded with twists and turns, some fortuitous and others not. Will Nico Krispis ever seek redemption? And will he find it? Author Albom’s passion shows through on every page in this well-crafted novel.

A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2023

ISBN: 9780062406651

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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