An insightful, graceful read that’s slightly overextended.

READ REVIEW

THE GHOSTS THAT COME BETWEEN US

A FAMILY DRAMA INSPIRED BY LIFE EVENTS

In Bahuguna’s debut novel, a girl comes to terms with childhood abuse through love, education and family.

A stream-of-consciousness prologue opens this novel with questions about life, God and the meaning of everything. It’s a move that places the reader squarely inside Nargis’ fraught existence. Exactly what’s wrong isn’t clear, but it’s obvious she’s suffering mental and physical distress. Bahuguna uses that entree to segue into Nargis’ difficult story—from a childhood in India in the ’60s, schooling, falling in love, a bout with tuberculosis, a subsequent stay in a sanatorium in Russia and raising a family in a Chicago suburb. The path this endearing narrator takes is filled with bumps. The main issue, though, is Nargis’ relationship with her father. Bahuguna writes: “Daddy would call all the shots in the family: How we should be educated, what language we should speak, how we should behave, and how we should think. And also, how we must dream. He would even decide our relationship with God.” Over the course of several years, he would also molest Nargis. As a way to heal, she not only moves away, she writes an account of her entire life, which takes form as this novel. “As you can understand, I have been hesitant about telling my story, at the risk of remorse over self-disclosure and the agony of feeling the pain again. But nothing can stop me now.” It’s a difficult story, but one that is well-told. Nargis is a relatable character and Bahuguna approaches her plight with grace and sympathy. The supporting cast—her father, mother, siblings and boyfriend—is well-drawn, and the family drama that ensues is efficiently handled. Bahuguna notes that she, too, has lived in India, Russia and Chicago, and she’s able to colorfully develop each setting. In the introduction, she writes that her work as a psychiatrist inspired her to create Nargis as a composite fictional character, with the goal of enhancing “the awareness of abuse issues.” That background information, which complements years of Nargis’ back story, would be better suited as a postscript, though, so the reader could approach the text from Nargis’ perspective. Bahuguna’s evocative prose is also peppered with references to pop culture, Indian terms (a glossary appears at the end) and flowery but appropriate language.

An insightful, graceful read that’s slightly overextended.

Pub Date: March 15, 2013

ISBN: 9780985422219

Page Count: 447

Publisher: Drona Productions

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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Like your third serving of a delicious meal—still very good, but not much excitement left.

TROUBLES IN PARADISE

The Steele family’s three-volume St. John adventure comes to a poignant end.

As the author warns in the foreword, if you haven’t read the first two books of this trilogy (Winter in Paradise, 2018; What Happens in Paradise, 2019), don’t start here. If you have, read this one slowly, because at the end we'll be saying goodbye to the series' endearing cast of transplanted Midwesterners, their new friends in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the many wonderful bars, restaurants, estates, bungalows, beaches, and seafaring vessels they frequent. In truth, you may find a leisurely pace easier to maintain than usual. The confounding mysteries and shocking reversals that drove the first two installments are wrapped up here, but the answers are pretty much as expected, and no new excitement is introduced. Threads that could have added a plot boost—a high-powered New York lawyer hired to deal with the devastation Irene Steele suffers as a result of her dead husband’s criminal activity, the FBI investigation into same, an old diary, an unplanned pregnancy—play out gently, or are dropped, instead of picking up the momentum. Hilderbrand’s choice to tell us in the introductory note about her fictionalization of Hurricane Irma takes away any element of surprise that might have had, and she doesn’t use the disaster for much in the way of plot, anyway. Oh, well. There are still plenty of lemongrass sugar cookies and a gorgonzola Caesar with pork belly and wood-grilled sirloin, served with an expensive bottle of cabernet pulled from the cellar of some annoying rich people, reviving the old joke about wine descriptions one last time: “Notes of fire coral, DEET and the Tide Pod challenge.” Just like everything else in 2020, this is not quite what you had hoped for, but, on the other hand, the comfort of a Hilderbrand novel is never something to sneer at.

Like your third serving of a delicious meal—still very good, but not much excitement left.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-31643-558-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Addressing race, risk, retreat, and the ripple effects of a national emergency, Alam's novel is just in time for this moment.

LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND

An interrupted family vacation, unexpected visitors, a mysterious blackout—something is happening, and the world may never be the same.

On a reassuringly sunny summer day, Amanda, an account director in advertising; Clay, a college professor; and their children, Archie, 15, and Rose, 13, make their way from Brooklyn to a luxury home (swimming pool! hot tub! marble countertops!) in a remote area of Long Island they’ve rented for a family vacation. Shortly after they arrive, however, the family’s holiday is interrupted by a knock on the door: The house’s owners, a prosperous older Black couple—George Washington and his wife, Ruth—have shown up unannounced because New York City has been plunged into a blackout and their Park Avenue high-rise apartment didn’t feel safe. Soon it becomes clear that the blackout is a symptom (or is it a cause?) of something larger—and nothing is safe. Has there been a nuclear or climate disaster, a war, a terrorist act, a bomb? Alam’s story unfolds like a dystopian fever dream cloaked in the trappings of a dream vacation: Why do hundreds of deer show up in the house’s well-maintained backyard or a flock of bright-pink flamingos frolic in the family pool and then fly away? What is the noise, loud enough to crack glass, that comes, without warning, once and then, later, repeatedly? Is it safer to go back to the city, to civilization, or to remain away, in a world apart? As they search for answers and adjust to what increasingly appears to be a confusing new normal, the two families—one Black, one White; one older, one younger; one rich, one middle-class—are compelled to find community amid calamity, to come together to support each other and survive. As he did in his previous novels, Rich and Pretty (2016) and That Kind of Mother (2018), Alam shows an impressive facility for getting into his characters’ heads and an enviable empathy for their moral shortcomings, emotional limitations, and failures of imagination. The result is a riveting novel that thrums with suspense yet ultimately offers no easy answers—disappointing those who crave them even as it fittingly reflects our time.

Addressing race, risk, retreat, and the ripple effects of a national emergency, Alam's novel is just in time for this moment.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-266763-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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