A slender but memorable contribution to the literature of crime and (sometimes self-inflicted) punishment.



Pensive novel of political terror and its consequences, set in the shadow of post-junta Brazil.

Born in 1961, just in time to experience the military dictatorship for herself, Bracher turns out a somber slice-of-life narrative centering on a professor who, after a long career in education, is preparing to leave the academy, sell his house, and move to the countryside. Gustavo knows that when he leaves his home, “a developer will tear it down, like all the other old homes nearby.” It doesn’t matter, for he lives in his mind, and there he faces incapacitating guilt over the death of his late wife’s brother, arrested with him as student activists in 1970. “Look, I was tortured,” he protests, “and they say I snitched on a comrade who was later killed by soldiers’ bullets.” Protest as he might that he didn’t do it, that he didn’t talk, Gustavo worries endlessly at his responsibility for Armando’s death—and the death of his grieving wife afterward, “without ever finding out that I’d said what I never said.” Scarred by his experiences in prison, Gustavo has scarcely dared profess a political view since; in fact, he confesses, he is retiring from his job “out of cowardice,” precisely to avoid getting caught up in a revolt against changes in the very pension system that will provide his keep even as he is cheated out of part of it. He protests further: “I was never a revolutionary, never participated in the enthusiasm.” He protests, in the end, too much, and the reader is left to mistrust a narrator who has rationalized for half a century that his comrade and friend, though not deserving death, brought his fate on himself. Bracher’s story turns in on itself, revisiting those long-ago moments from the point of view of an old, tired man consumed by the deeds and misdeeds of youth.

A slender but memorable contribution to the literature of crime and (sometimes self-inflicted) punishment.

Pub Date: July 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2736-0

Page Count: 160

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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