A remarkably new and inventive take on a momentous episode in the 15th century.

ENCOUNTERS UNFORESEEN

1492 RETOLD

A debut historical novel dramatizes the first contact between Columbus and natives in the Caribbean.

In his book, Rowen braids a series of parallel stories about Columbus and his crew’s initial encounter with the Taino natives he stumbles on when he finds the Caribbean Islands. While the climax of the tale is the crucial point of discovery in 1492, the author begins the narrative in the middle of the 15th century, detailing Columbus’ childhood in Genoa, his early professional pursuits as a merchant and cartographer, and his unrelenting quest to win financial backing for his bold expedition directly across the ocean to the Indies. Rowen also adroitly reconstructs Queen Isabella’s tortured ascendancy to the throne and the political intrigue she navigated since she was a teenager. But most impressively, without the benefit of any written Taino history, the author re-creates the lives of the natives long before Columbus arrives, chronicling the paths of three tribal leaders—caciques—and their varying responses to the European visitors they first believe, in their ghostly pallor, look like spirits or corpses. One of them, Guacanagarí, allows Columbus to erect a more permanent structure on his land, a decision the other two chieftains, Caonabó and Guarionex, consider incautious. Their judgment is confirmed once Columbus’ crew becomes abusive of the women in the absence of their admiral. In addition, Bakako, a young native boy, is taken captive by Columbus and used as a navigator and interpreter, and his astonished curiosity reflects the general bewilderment of the Taino people. The plot concludes in 1493, in advance of Columbus’ return, amid volatilely deteriorating relations between the Taino people and his men. Rowen’s research—a combination of scholarly investigation and travel conducted over six years—is nothing less than breathtaking. The sensitivity and originality of his portrayals are equally impressive, avoiding the trap of simply retelling a familiar tale from an exclusively European perspective or casting the explorers as nothing more than rapacious colonialists. Furthermore, the tale intelligently captures the religious impulse behind Columbus’ adventure as well as the Spanish Inquisition: the powerful Christian devotion of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.

A remarkably new and inventive take on a momentous episode in the 15th century.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9991961-0-6

Page Count: 598

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2017

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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