A pungent, episodic glimpse of childhood in a patriarchal society: sometimes obscure but often intense and lyrical....



A strong-willed girl’s life in 1950s Baghdad, depicted by an award-winning Iraqi writer.

Mamdouh, winner of the 2004 Naguib Mahfouz Prize for Literature, employs shifts of narrative perspective and a sophisticated technique in this affectionate but critical dissection of her culture. Huda, at age nine, can play with boys and attend a mixed school. But the story evokes a society where the women cluster together indoors and are often subjected to cruelty and abuse by their menfolk. With the exception of her sensitive brother Adil, Huda lives her life almost exclusively among females: her mother Iqbal, her aunts and her grandmother. Her father, Jamil, a police officer, has been known to kick and slap her. He treats her mother, who suffers from tuberculosis, harshly too, eventually revealing he has married a younger woman who can give him more sons. Heartbroken and ill, Iqbal leaves the family home, to die elsewhere. Huda’s grandmother, the long-suffering heart of the tale, supports her grandchildren through their father’s neglect and mother’s death. But Huda’s resilient spirit is far from extinguished. Her rite of passage—she commences puberty during the course of the novel—is revealed in a sequence of elliptical scenes in which detailed reality alternates with a more heightened and imagistic prose. Politics remain in the background, with hints of demonstrations against the British. Meanwhile, Huda and Adil continue in their grandmother’s care, visiting the cemetery, traveling to Karbala to see their father where he works in the prison. Huda’s skepticism toward men is intensified by her aunt Farida’s callous treatment at the hands of her unpleasant new husband Munir. Farida, maddened, attacks and humiliates Munir. Jamil, however, has become increasingly subdued. Despite his happy involvement with his new family, his career is failing and the story ends in flames and disruption, with Huda and her relatives uprooted to a new home.

A pungent, episodic glimpse of childhood in a patriarchal society: sometimes obscure but often intense and lyrical. (Naphtalene is the author’s second novel, originally published in 1986 by an Egyptian press. It is also the first by an Iraqi woman to appear in the U.S.)

Pub Date: July 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-55861-492-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Feminist Press

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2005

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...


An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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