A novel with a paradoxical combination of warmth and guile.

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THE DANCER AND THE THIEF

Chilean author Skármeta (The Postman, 1995, etc.) returns to post-dictatorship Santiago in this tale of beauty, crime and revenge.

In an attempt to deplete Santiago’s overflowing jails—and in part to right a previous wrong—the government has suddenly granted an amnesty for nonviolent prisoners. Among those released are Ángel Santiago, a young man who years earlier had stolen a horse, and Nicolás Vergara Gray, a notorious (but gentle and reflective) bank robber. Ángel has been seared by his experience in prison, most notably for having been literally tossed into a den of thieves and brutalized at the behest of the evil warden Santoro. Now that he’s out he wants revenge, and because Santoro knows of this desire, on the sly the warden also lets out Rigoberto Marín, a lifer, for 30 days, to allow him to assassinate Ángel. Ángel, however, doesn’t just want revenge, he wants romance, and this comes to him unexpectedly in the form of Victoria Ponce, a 17-year-old dancer who’s recently been booted from school for truancy and general recalcitrance. While their relationship is intensely sexual, it’s also very sweet, for Ángel, who has a photographic memory, begins to tutor Victoria so that she can complete her academic education and attend dance school. Meanwhile, Vergara Gray wants nothing more than to be reunited with his long-suffering wife Teresa, but he finds her both indifferent and impatient—she’s suffered enough. Intrigue thickens as the recently released prisoners find themselves woefully short of money; they need to be creative in coming up with ways to find enough cash to eke out a day-to-day existence on the gritty streets of the city. To aid them, criminal genius Lira the Dwarf, whose brilliance is in inverse proportion to his stature, sends Vergara Gray a letter from jail outlining a plan to make them all rich.

A novel with a paradoxical combination of warmth and guile.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-393-06494-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2007

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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