Wonderful in places, but sometimes more of a downer than many readers may bargain for; Richman’s latest could have withstood...

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THE RHYTHM OF MEMORY

Richman explores the story of two couples whose lives touch in unexpected ways.

When Octavio met Salome, she was a beautiful schoolgirl with thick dark tresses and the most beautiful face he had ever seen. Every day Octavio, a college student and struggling poet, schemed to come up with ploys to meet the young girl, finally settling on using the poems of one of Chile’s masters to capture her heart. Years later, Octavio is a famous, though reluctant, actor, whose political participation has put him, his children and, worst of all, his beautiful Salome, in danger. Meanwhile, across the ocean, another drama is playing out in the form of a young and extremely poor Finnish family that is barely surviving during the dark days of World War II. The family, three young boys, a beautiful mother and a husband recently returned wounded from the fighting, struggles to provide sustenance for its members. Soon, the woman finds she is pregnant and gives birth to a tiny, perfect blonde daughter who captures her heart. But her husband, bitter that he is no longer the man he once was, makes a heartbreaking decision that alters all of their lives and leads his baby daughter through an unanticipated journey to Sweden. Richman develops strong characters but heaps so much misery and unhappiness upon the ones she devises that readers may often feel besieged with their situations and despair. Her strongest passages take place in Finland and in the early days of the lives of two of her characters—Samuel and Kaija—but the author tends to repeat herself a great deal, hauling readers through the same scenes told from the same character’s point of view. The author's strengths include her beautiful, evocative language and sense of place. Chile, Finland and Sweden all come alive through Richman’s adept prose.

Wonderful in places, but sometimes more of a downer than many readers may bargain for; Richman’s latest could have withstood some judicious pruning without losing its rhythm.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-425-25877-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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