Motion’s plot wobbles as he casts his net wide to include slavery, but his ambition is admirable, as is his stylistic...

SILVER

RETURN TO TREASURE ISLAND

The British critic/biographer and former Poet Laureate, in his spirited sequel to Stevenson’s classic, Treasure Island, keeps the core of the original (the quest), while adding his own distinctive imprint.

It’s 1802, and 35 years since the Hispaniola set sail for Treasure Island. Former cabin boy Jim Hawkins owns a Thames-side inn outside London; his only child, also called Jim, is a well-educated amateur botanist. This 17-year-old Jim is our new hero and narrator, but don’t expect Stevenson’s pell-mell pace; Motion’s rhythm is much more leisurely. A blanketed figure in a small boat beckons to Jim. This is Natty, the tomboy daughter of the treacherous Long John Silver, who has his own inn upriver. It’s love at first sight for Jim, despite his unexplained fear of women. Natty takes Jim to meet Silver, blind and feeble. The old reprobate’s dying wish is for the youngsters to retrieve the remaining silver from the island. A ship and crew await them. Silver needs Jim to get the map, which his father keeps locked away; Jim’s theft of the map weighs heavily on his conscience, but he’s not about to pass up an adventure with Natty, disguised as a man for the voyage. Their position on board is privileged; Natty is her father’s representative, and Jim’s history is well-known. The situation on the island is horrifying. Stevenson’s three maroons, or castaways, have been joined by passengers from a shipwreck: 50 slaves and their guards. The maroons have imposed a reign of terror, resulting in a Conrad-ian “impenetrable darkness.” Natty will be captured. There will be exciting reversals of fortune before her stouthearted Captain’s party confronts the former pirates, who are almost too freaky in their “disgustingness.” Good people die; Jim must spill blood. In these scenes, Motion matches the raw vitality of Stevenson, though his conclusion is far more grim.

Motion’s plot wobbles as he casts his net wide to include slavery, but his ambition is admirable, as is his stylistic elegance.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-88487-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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