The ongoing feuds here often seem like overwrought plot contrivances, a problem aggravated by this newcomer’s fossilizing...

CITY OF DREAMS

Ambitious historical novel of New York City’s medical practices from the 1630s to the 1780s, a first novel freighted with so much fact and family melodrama it almost sinks under its own weight.

Swerling’s narrative tracks two families, the Turners and the Devreys, through six generations of medical practice, economic success and failure, and bitter internecine feuds, treacheries, and reconciliations. This 150-year scope creates complexities that can be followed only by using a family tree, and luckily Swerling provides one. Still, there are so many characters that none gets developed fully, making it easy for the reader to lose track. The Turners are (mostly) surgeons and the Devreys are (mostly) physicians, though several women in both families are apothecaries. At the time, these were competing rather than complementary medical disciplines. The surgeons and apothecaries are clearly favored as Swerling takes us on a fascinating journey through the bold early conflicts between herbal healing and surgery and the mainstream practices taught in the medical schools of the day. The physicians, though more prestigious and “educated,” offer their patients little beyond bleeding and purging, while the surgeons provide dramatic scenes of early operations for breast cancer and bladder stones, along with tracheotomies and limb removals. Unlike the physicians, the surgeons experiment with blood transfusions, use laudanum to dull pain, and favor inoculations. Indian attacks, slave revolts, wars, plagues of smallpox and yellow fever, and the brutal everyday life of the city itself—rapes, castrations, venereal diseases, public whippings and burnings—supply carnage aplenty for members of each generation to practice their skills on and argue about.

The ongoing feuds here often seem like overwrought plot contrivances, a problem aggravated by this newcomer’s fossilizing tendency to pack her dialogue with exposition. But early medicine and city history undeniably make for an interesting read.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-684-87172-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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