An imperfect but ambitious family saga that invites us to consider the personal and emotional stakes of political choices.

THE NESTING DOLLS

The stories of five generations of Soviet Jewish women come to light as a Brighton Beach family prepares to celebrate an anniversary.

In 1930s Odessa, Daria Gordon seems to have it all. Her new husband, a refined pianist who, to her mother’s delight, hails from a social class slightly above her own, is smitten with her. But their fortunes quickly turn when they and their two daughters are deported as enemies of the state, allegedly having been overheard speaking German. As laborers in Siberia, they encounter extreme hardship, and Daria turns to an unexpected source for help, embarking on a relationship that will indelibly change the course of her family’s life. At this point the narrative jumps to the 1970s and shifts to the perspective of Daria’s granddaughter Natasha, a gifted math student in Odessa whose ambitions are thwarted by state anti-Semitism. Her desire to broaden the horizons of her world, mixed with her infatuation with a charismatic young refusenik, sets her on a path that propels the narrative forward again to the present-day Russian-speaking Brooklyn enclave of Brighton Beach, once more skipping two generations to the perspective of Natasha’s granddaughter Zoe, who is dealing with her own romantic entanglements. The novel’s title, though perhaps unoriginal, is appropriate: With each section, Adams reveals another layer of the matryoshka doll that is Zoe’s history and identity. As the family prepares to celebrate Natasha and her husband’s 45th wedding anniversary, about which Natasha is strangely unenthusiastic, Zoe comes to understand how her foremothers’ choices have brought her family to the present moment. Adams’ prose leaves much to be desired; she often relies too heavily on melodramatic clichés instead of letting the already soap-opera–esque dynamism of her story speak for itself. But ultimately, the novel adds a degree of nuance to a historical narrative that is often flattened: It depicts some of the subtleties and complexities of being a Jew in the Soviet Union, offering a partial corrective to the frequent oversimplification of a chapter of history that is anything but simple. Moreover, it is a compelling example of how deeply personal stories can lie beneath the surface of sweeping histories.

An imperfect but ambitious family saga that invites us to consider the personal and emotional stakes of political choices.

Pub Date: July 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-291094-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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