An expertly woven, if occasionally talky, tale of gender rights and freedom.


Sexism, violence and skullduggery cast 16th-century Iran into turmoil in the second historical novel by Amirrezvani (The Blood of Flowers, 2007).

Javaher, a eunuch, is the loyal servant of Princess Pari, a wise if occasionally headstrong daughter of the shah. He admires both her strong will and her generosity to the impoverished women who come to her for support. But he has personal motives for getting close to the upper tier of Iranian royalty: He is determined to learn who among the nation’s elite is responsible for his father’s murder. That’s what prompted him to become a eunuch and thus enter the court, a transformation that Amirrezvani describes in visceral and surprisingly sensuous detail; though the process itself is unsettling, Javaher becomes an attentive lover, in keeping with his acuity for understanding people’s motivations. His best-laid plans are upset when the shah dies and is replaced with his son Isma‘il, who begins a reign that is neglectful, deadly and petty, and that threatens to break down the fragile truces with neighboring lands. Pari, marginalized by Isma‘il’s tyrannical behavior and overall sexism in the court, begins a scheme to end his reign, with Javaher serving as assistant, sounding board and spy. Making Javaher central to the story is an ingenious tactic on Amirrezvani’s part; his role allows him to navigate the highest and lowest castes of Iranian society, and though the cast of characters is large, the nature of the disputes never become too baroque. The story is bogged down somewhat, though, by many interior scenes that are big on platitude-heavy courtly language. A subplot involving Javaher’s sister has little spark, and even the mystery of his father’s murder lacks much drama. But as Isma‘il’s reign lurches toward its inevitable fate, the closing chapters gain momentum.

An expertly woven, if occasionally talky, tale of gender rights and freedom.

Pub Date: June 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6046-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.


Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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