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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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The mother of all presidential cover-ups is the centerpiece gimmick in this far-fetched thriller from first-novelist Baldacci, a Washington-based attorney. In the dead of night, while burgling an exurban Virginia mansion, career criminal Luther Whitney is forced to conceal himself in a walk-in closet when Christine Sullivan, the lady of the house, arrives in the bedroom he's ransacking with none other than Alan Richmond, President of the US. Through the one-way mirror, Luther watches the drunken couple engage in a bout of rough sex that gets out of hand, ending only when two Secret Service men respond to the Chief Executive's cries of distress and gun down the letter-opener-wielding Christy. Gloria Russell, Richmond's vaultingly ambitious chief of staff, orders the scene rigged to look like a break-in and departs with the still befuddled President, leaving Christy's corpse to be discovered at another time. Luther makes tracks as well, though not before being spotted on the run by agents from the bodyguard detail. Aware that he's shortened his life expectancy, Luther retains trusted friend Jack Graham, a former public defender, but doesn't tell him the whole story. When Luther's slain before he can be arraigned for Christy's murder, Jack concludes he's the designated fall guy in a major scandal. Meanwhile, little Gloria (together with two Secret Service shooters) hopes to erase all tracks that might lead to the White House. But the late Luther seems to have outsmarted her in advance with recurrent demands for hush money. The body count rises as Gloria's attack dogs and Jack search for the evidence cunning Luther's left to incriminate not only a venal Alan Richmond but his homicidal deputies. The not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper climax provides an unsurprising answer to the question of whether a US president can get away with murder. For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins. (Film rights to Castle Rock; Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-446-51996-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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