A poem to belief and to the displaced—humane, resonant, original, impressive.

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SWEETNESS IN THE BELLY

A white Muslim woman's affecting spiritual and emotional quests, as a misfit in two cultures.

Gibb (Mouthing the Words, 2001, etc.) immerses herself completely in her gravely empathetic narration of the unusual life of Lilly, daughter of hippies murdered in Morocco, leaving her orphaned, aged eight, in the care of distinguished Muslim guardians who later send her for safety to Ethiopia. Lilly's unique cross-cultural perspective is Gibb's means of access to a belief and a country rarely tackled by contemporary Western writers. Moving from the walled city of Harar in the 1970s to a run-down London borough in the ’80s, Lilly switches between differently impoverished locations where her identity is tested and modified by varying degrees of oppression and incomprehension. Hers is a story of female communities where women not only work, cook, give birth and apply makeup, but also circumcise their daughters, select husbands and fight for legitimacy. In Harar, Lilly’s white skin defines her as a farenji (foreigner), and her education in the Qur’an isolates her further, but she earns her acceptance by teaching poor children, thereby also gaining the admiration of a progressive doctor, Aziz, whom she learns to love. When famine strikes Ethiopia and the political climate shifts from relative tolerance to dictatorship, Lilly flees to England, where she will spend agonized years speculating on Aziz’s fate. In London, she not only becomes a nurse but also, with Ethiopian friend Amina, sets up an agency to re-connect refugee Ethiopians, which is how Amina rediscovers her husband Yusuf, damaged by torture and incarceration. Scarred Yusuf, increasingly Westernized Amina, grieving Lilly—now wooed by a Hindu doctor—reflect the pain, cultural relocation and uncertainty of tribal, political and religious refugees the world over. Gibb’s territory is urgently modern and controversial but she enters it softly, with grace, integrity and a lovely, compassionate story.

A poem to belief and to the displaced—humane, resonant, original, impressive.

Pub Date: March 20, 2006

ISBN: 1-59420-084-X

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2005

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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