One can’t help wishing the novel had roamed a bit more wildly within this inventive premise.

READ REVIEW

BEFORE SHE SLEEPS

Characters attempt rebellion from a dystopian society that replenishes its female population with forced polygamy and childbearing.

Deep underneath Green City, a group of women live in secret in the Panah, a structure that allows them to evade their fate as wives and mothers strictly controlled by the government. After a virus wiped out a large number of women and wars decimated the region—which roughly encompasses what is current-day Pakistan and Iran—they rebuilt by requiring women to marry multiple men, undergo fertility treatments, and be educated as “domestic scientists.” But the women of the Panah have resisted and make their livings as consorts to the male leaders of Green City. Rather than sex, these women offer nocturnal companionship, usually simply by sleeping next to their clients and holding them. Lin, the leader of the Panah, believes they are safe from discovery after years of her careful planning and personal risks. But when Sabine, one of the Panah girls, turns up in a hospital, nearly dead from an ectopic pregnancy she has no memory of conceiving, all the secrets of both the Green City elite and the rebels are imperiled. Pakistan native Shah (A Season for Martyrs, 2014, etc.) has written a novel that is in explicit conversation with The Handmaid’s Tale, and though Shah’s society is emphatically secular, situating her narrative in a predominantly Muslim area of the world is an overdue enlargement of the cultural conversation that Atwood’s novel continues to provoke. But Shah’s novel, which blends the spy genre and soap opera with speculative fiction, isn’t really the feminist dystopia one might expect. None of the female characters are allowed emotional independence: Each one’s love for a man drives her decision-making.

One can’t help wishing the novel had roamed a bit more wildly within this inventive premise.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-88328576-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Delphinium

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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A quiet tale that considers the way small, human connections can disrupt the callous powers of authority.

THE MEMORY POLICE

A novelist tries to adapt to her ever changing reality as her world slowly disappears.

Renowned Japanese author Ogawa (Revenge, 2013, etc.) opens her latest novel with what at first sounds like a sinister fairy tale told by a nameless mother to a nameless daughter: “Long ago, before you were born, there were many more things here…transparent things, fragrant things…fluttery ones, bright ones….It’s a shame that the people who live here haven’t been able to hold such marvelous things in their hearts and minds, but that’s just the way it is on this island.” But rather than a twisted bedtime story, this depiction captures the realities of life on the narrator's unnamed island. The small population awakens some mornings with all knowledge of objects as mundane as stamps, valuable as emeralds, omnipresent as birds, or delightful as roses missing from their minds. They then proceed to discard all physical traces of the idea that has disappeared—often burning the lifeless ones and releasing the natural ones to the elements. The authoritarian Memory Police oversee this process of loss and elimination. Viewing “anything that fails to vanish when they say it should [as] inconceivable,” they drop into homes for inspections, seizing objects and rounding up anyone who refuses—or is simply unable—to follow the rules. Although, at the outset, the plot feels quite Orwellian, Ogawa employs a quiet, poetic prose to capture the diverse (and often unexpected) emotions of the people left behind rather than of those tormented and imprisoned by brutal authorities. Small acts of rebellion—as modest as a birthday party—do not come out of a commitment to a greater cause but instead originate from her characters’ kinship with one another. Technical details about the disappearances remain intentionally vague. The author instead stays close to her protagonist’s emotions and the disorientation she and her neighbors struggle with each day. Passages from the narrator’s developing novel also offer fascinating glimpses into the way the changing world affects her unconscious mind.

A quiet tale that considers the way small, human connections can disrupt the callous powers of authority.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-87060-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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