A thoroughly engrossing, beautifully told look at human frailty.

CATHEDRAL

This first novel by screenwriter Hopkins imagines a paean to the glory of God arising from the unholy muck of the Middle Ages.

By the year 1229, a lofty Cathedral—a bishop’s vanity project, always capitalized—is already in the works in Hagenburg, Germany. The Bishop’s treasurer is not enamored of the idea, opining that “a constant river of silver and gold flows into that damned hole, providing the wages of the idle, and paying quarrymen, foresters and glaziers for their so-called labour.” The bishop has just “passed into Glory,” the Lord Treasurer is abroad, the pope is dead, infidel hordes besiege Jerusalem, and “all is in turmoil and flux.” No wonder the Cathedral takes so long to build. Meanwhile, young Rettich Schäffer is an apprentice stonecutter working on the Cathedral, wanting to buy his freedom from the bishop, so he borrows from a Jewish moneylender. The stories of Christians and Jews intertwine over the decades, with piety and decency largely absent from center stage. Surrounding the rising edifice in Hagenburg are degradations of every kind—“the siren calls of Temptation, Debauchery and Vice” and “the Magical World of the Goyyim. Sodom without cataclysm.” Hypocrisy abounds, as when Father Arnold chants over the bodies of dead bandits, because “God listens to what he says….The priest gets an extra sixpence for every Last Rite he gives. He was probably praying for a massacre.” Jews like Yudl ben Yitzhak Rosheimer privately regard the Cathedral as “the Abomination.” To him it is “just a pile of stones and vain idols, an excrescence of the sinful earth.” Well, it’s either that or “the finest Cathedral in the German Lands.” Across the decades, no one character dominates this story of ambition, vanity, and power. In the midst of a plague, a mother and child find cold comfort within the completed empty church as “the Witch of Winter rode the wind.”

A thoroughly engrossing, beautifully told look at human frailty.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-60945-611-5

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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

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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