A coming-of-age story that blends excellent prose with a downbeat plot.

WILD BOAR IN THE CANE FIELD

An orphaned girl lives an eventful life in rural Punjab in Rana’s debut novel.

Tara lives in a Punjabi village with Bibi Saffiya and Saffiya’s servant Amman Bhaggan, who found the infant Tara abandoned on a train. The girl grows up in a position that’s part daughter and part servant, raised alongside Bhaggan’s three sons and Maria, the daughter of laborers who work for Saffiya. Tara is convinced that she deserves the best in life, like the attention of Sultan, Bhaggan’s eldest son, even though he has no interest in her. Her pursuit of him ends in tragedy—one of many in the book. In an effort to avoid becoming the second wife of an abusive man, Tara sleeps with Bhaggan’s second son, Taaj, and ends up marrying the third, Malik, but further losses await the characters, and the book’s final section is narrated by the swarms of flies that have been observing Tara and the other characters throughout their lives: “We, the flies, disentangled ourselves from the bodies and disappeared behind the bushes.” Rana is a vivid writer with a talent for evocative metaphors (“Tea stains are nothing compared with how my life has been marked”), and her prose is full of intimate, detailed descriptions that make the book’s rural setting come to life. The story isn’t a happy one, so readers should expect to encounter a constant stream of malaise throughout the book, which takes place in the somewhat recent past; there are televisions but no computers. Tara’s arrogance (“She looked old, and I felt even more beautiful. But I didn't have enough feelings to feel sorry for her”) makes her both compelling and unsympathetic as a protagonist, and her frequent complaints may wear on the reader. Still, Rana does a fine job of capturing the emotions of the characters, making it a satisfying, if bleak, read.

A coming-of-age story that blends excellent prose with a downbeat plot.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63152-668-8

Page Count: 238

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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Stunningly original and altogether arresting.

WOMEN TALKING

An exquisite critique of patriarchal culture from the author of All My Puny Sorrows (2014).

The Molotschna Colony is a fundamentalist Mennonite community in South America. For a period of years, almost all the women and girls have awakened to find themselves bloodied and bruised, with no memories of what might have happened in the night. At first, they assumed that, in their weakness, they were attracting demons to their beds. Then they learn that, in fact, they have been drugged and raped repeatedly by men of the colony. It’s only when one woman, Salome, attacks the accused that outside authorities are called—for the men’s protection. While the rest of the men are away in the city, arranging for bail, a group of women gather to decide how they will live after this monstrous betrayal. The title means what it says: This novel is an account of two days of discussion, and it is riveting and revelatory. The cast of characters is small, confined to two families, but it includes teenage girls and grandmothers and an assortment of women in between. The youngest form an almost indistinguishable dyad, but the others emerge from the formlessness their culture tries to enforce through behavior, dress, and hairstyle as real and vividly compelling characters. Shocked by the abuse they have endured at the hands of the men to whom they are supposed to entrust not only their bodies, but also their souls, these women embark on a conversation that encompasses all the big questions of Christian theology and Western philosophy—a ladies-only Council of Nicea, Plato’s Symposium with instant coffee instead of wine. This surely is not the first time that these women are thinking for themselves, but it might be the first time they are questioning the male-dominated system that endangered them and their children, and it is clearly the first time they are working through the practical ramifications of what they know and what they truly believe. It’s true that the narrator is a man, but that’s of necessity. These women are illiterate and therefore incapable of recording their thoughts without his sympathetic assistance.

Stunningly original and altogether arresting.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63557-258-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS

These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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