A consistently engrossing work of literature filled with beautiful expressions of despair.

READ REVIEW

TALK TILL THE MINUTES RUN OUT

AN IMMIGRANT'S TALE AT 7-ELEVEN

A Pakistani exile in the United States is tortured by a prolonged absence from his family and homeland in Grima’s (The Performance of Emotion Among Paxtun Women, 1992) novel.

Nur Ali grew up in the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan, a place that he considered “idyllic” before the Taliban commandeered it. These conquerors were eventually pushed out, but the Pakistani soldiers who replaced them were equally brutal and corrupt governors of the land. Nur eventually left Pakistan in order to make a better living for his family, and his departure unexpectedly lasts for 15 years, and his separation from his family is an implacable source of anxiety and depression for him. He spends most of his time working at a 7-Eleven convenience store—an astonishing 84 hours a week, and each and every day he lives frugally so that he can send every possible penny to his family. From his near-constant perch at the store, he does his best to run his household in Pakistan, nervously grilling his wife, Shahgofta, for information and trying hard to project a sense of leadership halfway across the globe: “From a world away behind his 7-Eleven counter, once again the exiled head of family had resolved a major family crisis and maintained the balance of forces within the clan.” But as problems mount—his granddaughter falls ill, soldiers harass the family, and his brother steals money and effectively takes over his home—Nur finds that fulfilling his duties as head of the family, a revered “qaida,” becomes nearly impossible. Grima worked for a decade as an ethnographer in the Swat Valley, and she writes from deep reserves of scholarly expertise and personal experience, both of which radiate from each page. She not only draws a gripping picture of the Swat Valley’s culture, before and after the war on terrorism transformed it, but also of a tightknit community of Pakistani exiles in the United States—a network that Nur all but runs, in a lovingly avuncular fashion. As he grows old and his health begins to fail, he desperately wants to return home, and he finds meager consolation for his “exiled existence” in memories of a happier, less complicated time. The United States presents its own set of problems for him—he encounters vitriolic prejudice, and the store is regularly robbed—and the author smartly and unflinchingly describes his less-than-utopian circumstances. Nur’s nostalgic pain is almost unbearably poignant at times: “I swear, we have nothing left. Our homes are destroyed, our families dispersed. There are no men to look after the women or farm the fields. We have nothing left, and yet they still come after us.” Grima’s prose is largely Spartan in style, unadorned by poetic embellishments but powerfully direct—creating a feeling that unalloyed truth is on offer, without excessive sentiment or melodrama. It also offers a wonderfully edifying portrait of Pakistani people in their native country and of those in exile from it.

A consistently engrossing work of literature filled with beautiful expressions of despair.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73322-898-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HigherLife Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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