Social commentary as literature deftly translated from the Italian.

DIVORCE ISLAMIC STYLE

In Lakhous’ (Clash of Civilizations over and Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, 2008) latest fiction, Christian Mazzari, a young Sicilian court translator, meets Judas.

This Judas is actually Captain Tassarotti from SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence service. The good captain wants Christian to go undercover and infiltrate Rome’s Viale Marconi, an ethnic Egyptian neighborhood, and particularly Little Cairo call center, supposedly linked to a bombing plot. Christian is perfectly qualified. He’s Mediterranean in appearance; his Sicilian grandparents were born in Tunisia; and he’s a language graduate of the University of Palermo who speaks fluent Arabic. Christian’s code name becomes Issa, Arabic for Jesus. Quite James Bond, but this isn’t a shaken-not-stirred-adventure. Though set against the backdrop of 2005’s manic phase of the War on Terror, the book is a wry study of modern multicultural Europe, a place where wary Muslim immigrants finagle Italian bureaucracy without offending the local imans or neglecting to send euros home. Lakhous’ narrative unfolds from two points of view. Christian/Issa copes with Judas’ unreasonable expectations, watches Al Jazeera religiously, shares an apartment with 12 immigrants and haunts Little Cairo. More interestingly, Safia, now Sofia, a spirited and somewhat independent young Egyptian woman, arrives in Rome after an arranged marriage with “the architect,” an Egyptian professional relegated to working as a pizza chef. Issa’s segments are observational, scattered impressions from a reluctant participant in operational snafu. Sofia offers chatty insights into an immigrant society tripping over religiosity and hypocrisy, spiced with lively opinions about veils, female circumcision, divorce, misogynistic interpretations of the Koran and her secret attempts to earn money of her own. That Issa and Sofia will meet is a given, as is their inevitable mutual attraction.

Social commentary as literature deftly translated from the Italian.

Pub Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-60945-066-3

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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