Odd mix of styles and themes, but nonetheless an endearing portrait of a place and time.

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From journalist/memoirist Carter (Nothing to Fall Back On, 2002), a sweet debut novel about a young widow and her daughter who move to Florida in 1958, searching for warm weather and a new life.

Tessie Lockhart looks like Joanne Woodward, works in a dress shop in Carbondale, Ill., and talks daily to her husband Jerry, who’s been dead for two and a half years. When a letter arrives from school alerting her to teenaged daughter Dinah’s unhappiness, Tessie—whose own formula for getting through the day requires cigarettes and a half bottle of Almaden—pulls out an atlas and decides on Gainesville as the place to start over. The town proves to be a hotbed of charming eccentrics, so our heroines fit right in. Dinah, who thinks her father is communicating with her through an odd classmate called Eddie Fingers, becomes best friends with rich girl Crystal Landy, whose beautiful and amusingly self-indulgent mother has an eye for the young Cuban girl in the local hair salon. Crystal’s brother, Charlie, has psychic powers known only to their housekeeper, a woman devoted to Jesus and the novels of Harold Robbins. Tessie lands a receptionist job and a lover: Barone Antonucci, a suave, older, well-to-do man with a hopelessly incapacitated wife. Barone’s presence, however, is cleared by Jerry, whom Tessie consults by writing notes, putting them in a small cedar box (aptly named the “Jerry Box”) and waiting for a sign. Silly as it all seems, life in Gainesville has its serious moments. As the ’50s move into the ’60s, the town and the characters undergo changes wrought by history (the Vietnam War, integration) and personal experience (the Landy house burns down, Dinah and Charlie fall in difficult love, Tessie becomes pregnant with Barone’s child). But at the close, all the ends are tied up, albeit in a decidedly crooked bow.

Odd mix of styles and themes, but nonetheless an endearing portrait of a place and time.

Pub Date: June 3, 2005

ISBN: 1-56512-449-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2005

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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