Written with piercing beauty, alive with moral passion and sorrowful insight—a rueful masterpiece.


In his magnificent first novel, poet Majmudar (O°, O°, 2009) embodies the terrible days following the partition of India and Pakistan in the stories of four refugees from sectarian violence.

Keshav and Shankar are 6-year-old twins, separated from their mother in a crush of Hindus trying to get on the last train for Delhi from what is now Pakistan. On the same day in India, Dr. Ibrahim Masud arrives at his looted clinic, where the terrified gatekeeper tells him, “The city isn’t safe for any Mussulman.” Simran and her family are Sikhs; she flees as her father prepares to kill his wife and daughters rather than have them soiled by their Muslim neighbors. Observing them all is the spirit of the twins’ dead father; his initially startling narration gives the novel the distance it needs to chronicle horrifyingly brutal events. Muslims stop a train full of Hindus and murder everyone on board. Men burning down a Muslim lawyer’s house turn to douse a boy with kerosene, not caring that the child they’re about to incinerate is also Hindu. The breakdown of civil order is epitomized by a young thug who snares the twins and sells them to a childless widow, then joins a roving gang looking for stranded girls to force into prostitution. They pick up Simran, but she escapes and finds refuge with Masud, as do Keshav and Shankar. The doctor stands at the story’s moral center, treating the sick and injured of all ethnicities in the vast caravans of refugees streaming toward the India/Pakistan border from both directions. He’s not the only one: A Sikh bus driver, a farmer and a prostitute all risk their lives to help others, “reminded…of a lost, golden past, before the invention of borders, when [kindness was] possible.” Each character must grapple with the choice between kindness and cruelty, and the otherworldly narrator understands that either choice is equally likely in a world gone mad.

Written with piercing beauty, alive with moral passion and sorrowful insight—a rueful masterpiece.

Pub Date: June 21, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9395-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...


An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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