MY BELOVED LIFE

An immersive, moving portrait that steadily gathers intensity, vividness, and surprise.

A quiet, appealing, deceptively ambitious Indian (and Indian American) family saga covering 1935-2020.

The novel looks at the outset like old-fashioned realism: a sympathetic, slowly cumulative account of an “ordinary” life. Jadunath Kunwar is born in a superstitious backwater without electricity. A good student, he’s first in his family to attend college (a highlight is meeting Tenzing Norgay, fresh from summiting Everest). Jadu becomes a modestly successful historian, a husband, father to a daughter. His life’s most dramatic events occur around its edges: his mother’s near-fatal cobra bite during her pregnancy, the theft of his daughter’s dowry by a cutpurse, a brief stretch in jail after a protest. The author’s daring here takes the unusual form of modesty, quiet, calm; few big plot elements arise, and Kumar leaves lots of space for digression, anecdote, observation, and Jadu’s well-meaning mildness. Kumar’s patience—and the reader’s—pays off handsomely, though, when we jump forward to the end of Jadu’s life as seen through his daughter Jugnu’s eyes and grasp the book’s full sweep. The crowning (minor) glory of Jadu’s career is a Fulbright year at Berkeley in 1988. That trip abroad becomes the spur or permission Jugnu needs, after her husband commits a crime and her marriage founders, to settle in the U.S. as a journalist for CNN. The novel follows the father and daughter all the way to the Covid-19 pandemic, and along the way it provides an immersive, poignant portrait both of India over 85 years and of the whipsawing experience of being an Indian citizen of the larger world. But mostly, in the end, it pays tribute to two people who make noticing, attentiveness, and storytelling the central pillars of their lives. Late in the book, Jugnu encapsulates the novel’s premise and ambition when she says, “I believe strongly that we are in touch with a great astonishing mystery when we put honest words down on paper to register a life and to offer witness.”

An immersive, moving portrait that steadily gathers intensity, vividness, and surprise.

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2024

ISBN: 9780593536063

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2024

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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