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FLOOD OF FIRE

At times slow-moving and repetitive, this novel still provides a satisfying sense of closure to the political and personal...

Ghosh completes his epic Ibis trilogy with a book focusing on the First Opium War of 1839 to '41 and culminating in battles between the British navy and Chinese ports.

As befits a saga of this magnitude, there’s no center but rather a cluster of subplots and a dazzling variety of characters and relationships, both personal and professional. Foremost among them is 21-year-old Zachary Reid, who at the beginning of the novel is acquitted of murdering the first mate of the schooner Ibis. He continues his career under the watch of Mr. Burnham, who eventually settles on Reid to help move his cargo of opium from Calcutta to China—and to use the “free market” to sell opium for a substantial profit along the way. Meanwhile, Reid comes under the sway of Mrs. Burnham, who spends a great deal of time puritanically warning him about the dangers of “onanism” …and then begins a torrid affair with him. Another subplot involves the military maneuvers of Kesri Singh, a sepoy officer with a regiment of the Bengal Native Infantry. He and his commanding officer wind up in the center of battle as the action moves from India to China. Yet another subplot involves Shireen Modi, whose husband dies and who is thus forced to take over his business activities, including the potentially bankrupting loss of a huge opium shipment. Somehow, throughout the machinations of the characters and the logistics of business and militarism, Ghosh brings everything together as ships and troops converge on China for a climactic battle.

At times slow-moving and repetitive, this novel still provides a satisfying sense of closure to the political and personal issues Ghosh opened up more than a thousand pages earlier.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-17424-8

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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