A thoughtful, philosophically rich story that probes a still-open wound.

THE DISORIENTED

An exile returns home to a land still torn apart by civil war 25 years afterward.

Think The Big Chill in Beirut with some of the sex but little of the lightheartedness in Jeune Afrique editor-in-chief Maalouf’s charged novel. Adam, whose name, he records in his overflowing notebooks, “encompasses all of nascent humanity, yet I belong to a humanity that is dying,” receives a phone call in Paris, where he has been living since leaving his native Lebanon in a time of conflict. His friend Mourad lies dying, Mourad’s wife tells Adam, and wants to see him before he dies. Adam is reluctant: We haven’t spoken for years, he protests. Nonetheless, he travels home to a place he barely recognizes. Just what drove the two friends apart emerges slowly, and as friends gather to commemorate Mourad’s passing, they wistfully remember a time when, as Adam recalls, “My friends belonged to all denominations and each made it a duty, a point of pride, to mock his own—and then, gently, those of the others.” The gentleness is long past, as an Arab jihadi pointedly tells Adam. For his part, Adam, a historian who is years overdue delivering a commissioned biography of Attila, admits to knowing more about Caesar and Hannibal than about his own circle. He begins to chase down the details of their lives—but, as his partner in Paris chides, “I know you, Adam. You’ll fill hundreds of pages with stories of your friends, but it will all end up mouldering in a drawer.” Those stories are inevitably ones of dreams dashed and new realities substituted for them: a woman with whom he has a fitful affair wanted to become a surgeon but instead winds up as what Adam calls a “chatelaine,” that is, a hotel manager; another, a man of the world, withdraws to a monastery; a third, whose “long curly hair was more white than gray” now, has moved across the world to Brazil; and so on. None is particularly happy—and the story, fittingly, ends on a tragic, uncertain note.

A thoughtful, philosophically rich story that probes a still-open wound.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64286-058-0

Page Count: 522

Publisher: World Editions

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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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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