A pensive work that incorporates international history, compelling characterization, and poetic prose and will appeal to a...

THE RIDDLE OF THE SPHINX

A man at the height of a law career recalls his youth in his Iranian homeland in this novel.

New York City–based attorney Montagu (Intellectual Property, 2012), who’s also a visiting faculty member of Princeton University’s comparative literature department, crafts an immersive tale of identity, sexuality, and self-discovery featuring his alluring protagonist, Eric Richardson. The three-part story—which refers to the ancient riddle of the Sphinx regarding the three eras of man (infancy, adulthood, and old age)—employs a smooth, lyrical prose style that ably balances history and beguiling fiction. It begins with Eric as a youth growing up in Tehran in the 1970s. Then named “Keyvan,” he was a child of divorced parents who enjoyed a comfortable life as the area’s oil and real estate markets boomed. The narrative fills in the background of Keyvan’s family and of his own coming-of-age, which is “punctuated by personal, rather than political dramas,” the narrator notes, even as civil unrest increases in the streets. Eventually, the shah goes into exile as the Iranian Revolution gains momentum. Montagu’s depiction of Keyvan’s departure from Iran in 1978 is nail-bitingly suspenseful as he clandestinely travels with his mother across borderlands with heavily guarded checkpoints. The second section follows Keyvan, now using the name “Eric,” through the 1980s, his upbringing in France, and his arrival at Princeton University. There, he receives an Ivy League education while navigating a new way of life on campus. As the social aspects of school life, and Eric’s increasing self-awareness about being bisexual, come into play, Montagu writes eloquently and tastefully of several intense trysts that Eric has with fellow student Mark, whom he’s tutoring in French. Readers will be drawn in as the protagonist struggles with his sexuality, falls in love with a man whose feelings differ from his, and tries to find meaning and direction after a sudden, catastrophic revelation. The concluding section starts with Eric having graduated from law school. He’s now gainfully employed at a leading New York City law firm; he’s also married to a woman and is a father to two daughters. Later, it’s revealed that he hadn’t told his wife that he was bisexual. Interestingly, the reliability of Eric as a narrator is undermined by other revelations as the novel comes to an end. These unexpected elements will cause readers to question the validity and the veracity of his entire story. Overall, though, the book will appeal to readers who are looking for a unique tale of self-realization that’s introspective, reflective, and philosophical. At the same time, the book provides an authentic and vividly described history of the Middle East, of the wide-ranging reforms that the area has experienced over the years, and of Islamic culture. The combination of these elements results in a novel that’s engrossing and educational—as well as one that provides some food for thought in its final pages.

A pensive work that incorporates international history, compelling characterization, and poetic prose and will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73260-210-6

Page Count: 382

Publisher: Persepolis Press

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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