THE ARTIST OF DISAPPEARANCE

The three protagonists in this trio of novellas struggle with fulfilling their desires while life in modern India speeds past them.

Stuck in a career he would not have chosen for himself, the unnamed young government officer of the first novella, The Museum of Final Journeys, finds himself posted to a mosquito-infested backwater. Starved for adventure and dreaming of being a writer, he is led to an incredible collection of colonial-era artifacts housed in a crumbling mansion in the middle of nowhere. But his initial delight turns to claustrophobic dread as he ponders what, if anything, he can do with such useless treasures. Prema, the prematurely aging teacher at the heart of Translator Translated, also yearns for a meaningful life outside her dull routine. And after a chance meeting with a glamorous former schoolmate who runs a small publishing house, it seems as if there really is an opportunity for a different path. The publisher, Tara, allows her to translate into English the story collection of an obscure but talented female writer from the same town as Prema’s mother. The rewarding work brings Prema back to life, but a second attempt at translating a lesser novel proves problematic when the author’s nephew discovers discrepancies between Prema’s words and the original text. Like Prema, Ravi, the recluse in the final, titular novella, is his own worst enemy. As the adopted son of an upper-class anglophile Indian couple, Ravi grows up privileged (if neglected) in the idyllic mountain town of Mussoorie, in the Himalayas. Unable to connect with people his own age, the young Ravi takes solace in nature, until a family tragedy forces him to live with relatives in Bombay. He eventually returns to the mountains, though, and settles into a meager, solitary existence in what used to be his house. His peace is disturbed only when a well-meaning group of documentary filmmakers comes across Ravi’s life work, a secret hidden project that he would far prefer to keep to himself. Reading Desai’s (Fasting, Feasting, 2000, etc.) poignant and wry new effort offers a modest pleasure that suits its fragile characters.

A deft exploration of the limits people place on themselves by trying to cling to the past.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-547-57745-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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