EVENT IN THE MARSHES

Tales that are informative and occasionally evocative, but tediously long-winded.

A debut collection of short fiction set in the Middle East and Europe with annotations to help readers understand Iraqi culture.

Dark events lie at the heart of much of this book. A “devastating cholera epidemic” is occurring in the marshes of southern Iraq in the novella-length first piece in this collection, “Event in the Marshes.” The story opens with the mysterious Zaira Tiswahen, a “boat peddler,” rowing to Haj Raisan village. On her arrival, she meets a woman whose daughter, Hasna, has grown gravely ill. The villagers are desperate to save Hasna from death: A clergyman suggests that a miracle—the apparition of a wali, or holy person—may heal her, but her fiance, Hameed is skeptical of the idea and sets off on his own quest for a cure. In “Woman with a Bike,” the male narrator introduces himself to a woman whose bike has a flat tire and unexpectedly hears about “the greatest tragedy” of her life, the death of her husband on their wedding night. And in “Sorrow on the Banks of the Southerly River” a man ruminates about being a conscientious objector to serving in the Iraq War. Even the somewhat incongruous “Two Worlds,” an exploration of one diner’s fleeting attraction to another at a Brussels brasserie, ends with disillusionment. The collection opens promisingly with a rich description of an Iraqi marsh. Careful annotations in the form of detailed footnotes explain aspects of Iraqi culture. However, Lateef’s writing is off-puttingly wordy: “In such an unpleasant, creepy setting where myths and solid reality merged and became one, where actual fears with auditory and visual components intermingled with invisible horror that mimicked morbid hallucinations and the icy breath of formless danger, the metamorphosis of this isolated, untrodden swampy realm into a consternating, haunted world was an appalling mental experience.” That kind of verbosity draws out the stories to needless lengths, causing interest to wane. Although the author takes the reader into potentially new and exciting worlds, and his plotlines are mildly compelling, a significantly pared-down style would have helped to sustain the reader’s interest.

Tales that are informative and occasionally evocative, but tediously long-winded.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-72839-478-7

Page Count: 158

Publisher: AuthorHouseUK

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2020

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 32


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2022


  • New York Times Bestseller


  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 32


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2022


  • New York Times Bestseller


  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • New York Times Bestseller


  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Awards & Accolades

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • New York Times Bestseller


  • IndieBound Bestseller

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

Close Quickview