A captivating Iraqi protagonist stars in two uneven tales.

GENERAL RAHMINI'S DILEMNA

In this collection of two novellas, the conflicted eponymous character faces more than one dilemma.

In the title piece, Gen. Abdul Rahmini, the former chief of counterintelligence under Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, finds himself reluctantly working with the Islamic State group and even more reluctantly being recruited to carry out a suicide mission in America. He’s dead if he manages to slip by U.S. border controls, but as good as dead if he is captured and turned over to Baghdad authorities “who would cheerfully hang him.” But he manages to escape his co-conspirators. Posing as an Episcopalian minister, he winds up in a small Montana town, where he unexpectedly assimilates into the community and falls in love with an American widow. They Call Me the Cobra, an earlier novella, is Rahmini’s origin story; he was a professor who criticized his country’s brutal and repressive secret police in a speech. On the verge of being executed, he is instead installed as the director of the Internal Security Service and given three months to correct its abuses. But as with Michael Corleone, who becomes more brutal than his father, Rahmini ramps up the torture and earns the “Cobra” moniker not just from terrorists, but also his own subordinates. Both of Grayson’s (Fables of the CIA, 2017, etc.) stories have compelling ideas at their core and a strong protagonist. But they are unsatisfactorily dramatized; any suspense becomes undermined by one anticlimax after another. The title novella is the more intriguing of the two tales. It begins as your standard-issue terrorism thriller, but the minister ruse gives the story a Some Like It Hot/Sister Act twist that might have been played for dark comedy. The last third, in which Rahmini ponders revealing his past and illegal status to the woman he loves, would make a potent and timely romantic drama. But taken together, the works do not mesh. General references the murder of Rahmini’s wife and son by “an invading Shia militia unit.” In Cobra, Rahmini has a wife and daughter who survive a bombing of their home. And General is unfortunately riddled with errors (“What did you handle it?” Rahmini asked; “I was...hoist with my own petard”).

 A captivating Iraqi protagonist stars in two uneven tales.

Pub Date: Dec. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-04850-4

Page Count: 214

Publisher: Ingram Spark

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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