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THE NESTING DOLLS

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

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 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

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An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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