Cultures collide and sometimes meld in an assured debut.

INHERITORS

The past spills out into history and encroaches on the future in Japanese-born, Boston-based writer Serizawa’s first book of short stories.

Two poles dominate Serizawa’s short fiction: Japan and the U.S. (California in particular). One historical event looms over both: the war between Japan and the U.S. in the 1940s, an event that, she writes in an author’s note, “didn’t start and end with specific people and events; its roots reach back to values seeded long ago, and its sundering effects have hardly lost their spark and propulsion.” Her characters aren’t always sure what those values are. One woman, resolutely of the present moment in the era of “Neoliberal Self-Destruction,” disappears at the end of a looping mystery, perhaps a member, perhaps the very embodiment, of a group called Bakteria, which “leaked a trove of undeclassified material related to a Japanese bacteriological warfare unit from the Second World War, whose crimes the U.S. government had notoriously helped cover up, shielding its members in exchange for their data harvested from human experimentation.” Was her disappearance a prank, a kidnapping, a CIA plot, an act of terrorism? We’re left to guess. In another story, some of the last pilots of the Imperial Army, knowing that they won’t return, lift off into the sky to “meet several hundred enemy fighters,” dutifully plunging like so many Icaruses into the ocean. A Japanese woman recalls the hoods that she and her neighbors wore to protect themselves from American firebombing: “they were just padded pieces of cloth, another thing our government cooked up. Still, we put them on, you know, half of us running around with our hoods on fire.” Serizawa writes elegantly if matter-of-factly of the horrific and the nostalgic alike, as when one narrator recalls a childhood visit to her grandparents in Japan, learning an ancient ritual: “clapping her hands three times and pressing her palms together, eyes closed, a prayer for Fuji-san, his mountain god. Keeper of health.”

Cultures collide and sometimes meld in an assured debut.

Pub Date: July 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54537-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 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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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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