An expertly crafted first novel uncovers the roots of contemporary Eastern European carnage in the lurid story of a notorious 16th-century murderess. Romanian-born poet, essayist, and NPR commentator Codrescu (Road Scholar, 1993, etc.) abandoned plans for a factual book about Elizabeth Bathory, his real-life ancestor, a beautiful Hungarian countess convicted and imprisoned for torturing and murdering more than 600 young girls—and has instead produced a compulsively readable fiction in which the story of Elizabeth's life and crimes is juxtaposed with a parallel narrative describing the agonies of conscience suffered by her 20th-century descendant: an Americanized journalist whose reluctant return to his homeland exposes him to Elizabeth's aura and influence—with catastrophic results. Drake Bathory-Kereshtur, testifying before a judge from whom he begs punishment, recounts his enlistment by a patriotic group bent on restoring Hungary's aristocracy and monarchy to their former grandeur, and repeats the tormenting question (``In what way were the people of Elizabeth Bathory's time like us?'') raised by this paralyzing plunge into his, and his country's, past. Its counterpart story traces the welter of violent influences that shape the young countess's steely character and documents her phlegmatic savagery with a perversely amusing articulation of droll understatement and feverish Grand Guignol excess. Though Anne Rice might indeed be warned to look to her laurels, this exciting book offers rather more than a racy few hours' reading pleasure. Codrescu has expertly blended convincing period detail and colorfully grotesque folk materials with a riveting characterization of a woman who was doubtless never understood even by those who loved and feared her most. Furthermore, he persuasively links such familiar horrors as ``ethnic cleansing'' with his modern protagonist's vision of ``Older things that now stirred from their slumber, blind creatures that lived in the deep mud of ancestral memory, things with horns and tails.'' A wonderful historical novel that merits comparison with the fiction of Zoe Oldenbourg and Marguerite Yourcenar. (First printing of 150,000; Literary Guild alternate selection; author tour)

Pub Date: July 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-684-80244-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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