by Ben Hopkins ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 26, 2021
A thoroughly engrossing, beautifully told look at human frailty.
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
Page Count: 624
Publisher: Europa Editions
Review Posted Online: May 17, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020
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by Lauren Groff ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 12, 2023
The writing is inspired, the imaginative power near mystic, but some will wish for more plot.
This historical fever dream of a novel follows the flight of a servant girl through the Colonial American wilderness, red in tooth and claw.
As in her last novel, Matrix (2021), Groff’s imaginative journey into a distant time and place is powered by a thrumming engine of language and rhythm. “She had chosen to flee, and in so choosing, she had left behind her everything she had, her roof, her home, her country, her language, the only family she had ever known, the child Bess, who had been born into her care when she was herself a small child of four years or so, her innocence, her understanding of who she was, her dreams of who she might one day be if only she could survive this starving time." Those onrushing sentences will follow the girl, “sixteen or seventeen or perhaps eighteen years of age,” through the wilderness surrounding the desperate colony, driven by famine and plague into barbarism, through the territory of “the powhatan and pamunkey” to what she hopes will be “the settlements of frenchmen, canada,” a place she once saw pointed out on a map. The focus is on the terrors of survival, the exigencies of starvation, the challenges of locomotion, the miseries of a body wounded, infected, and pushed beyond its limit. What plot there is centers on learning the reason for her flight and how it will end, but the book must be read primarily for its sentences and the light it shines on the place of humans in the order of the world. Whether she is eating baby birds and stealing the fluff from the mother’s nest to line her boots, having a little tea party with her meager trove of possessions, temporarily living inside a tree trunk that comes with a pantry full of grubs (spiders prove less tasty), or finally coming to rest in a way neither she nor we can foresee, immersion in the girl’s experience provides a virtual vacation from civilization that readers may find deeply satisfying.The writing is inspired, the imaginative power near mystic, but some will wish for more plot.
Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023
Page Count: 272
Review Posted Online: June 8, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2023
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by Barbara Kingsolver ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 18, 2022
An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.
Awards & Accolades
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
Page Count: 560
Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022
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