A quiet study of a man struggling to find a serenity to quell his long-entrenched terror.


A Japanese man shattered by senseless, unimaginable violence suffers an ongoing existential crisis, documented in part by the women in his life.

Spanish Argentine novelist Neuman (The Things We Don’t Do, 2014, etc.) is a literary alchemist, so it’s a pleasure to see his most recent work translated so quickly by Caistor and Garcia. The emotional journey here is fundamentally about the ways people break, what holds them together, and who emerges on the other side. To say its protagonist is a survivor is technically accurate but underplays the damage that forms his fundamental character. Yoshie Watanabe narrowly avoided being killed at Hiroshima as a boy but lost his entire family in the blast. Decades later, an elderly and retired Watanabe is rocked again when he’s proximate to the tsunami that devastated the nuclear reactor at Fukushima in 2011. Watanabe’s life story is relayed, appropriately, in fragments, punctuated by narration from the women most important to him. Yoshie refuses to identify as hibakusha, the label attached to survivors of the atomic blasts. But he’s never really whole, either, devoting his life to an undying quest for order, punctuated by an obsessive nature and a heartfelt admiration for the obscure art of kintsugi, an ancient practice that repairs shattered things with gold. Leonard Cohen's song "Anthem"—"There's a crack in everything / that's how the light gets in"—immediately comes to mind, and Neuman himself nods to it. The women are interesting reflections here—there's a fellow student Yoshie has a fevered romance with in Paris; a politically active journalist he has a combative liaison with in New York; an interpreter in Buenos Aires; and a widow with three children in Madrid. The uniformity of the women's cadence and vocabulary tarnishes their individuality a bit, but the story remains a moving meditation on the reverberating waves that shape us and the inescapable impermanence of life.

A quiet study of a man struggling to find a serenity to quell his long-entrenched terror.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-15823-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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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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