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

EVENT IN THE MARSHES

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

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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