A conventional up-by-one’s-bootstraps tale redeemed by the complex musician at its center.



A woman in drag navigates the man’s world of tango music a century ago.

Leda, the heroine of De Robertis’ third novel (The Invisible Mountain, 2009; Perla, 2012), arrives in Buenos Aires from her native Italy in 1913 expecting to start a new life with her husband, a cousin she married by proxy in Naples. But she gets bad news practically from the moment she steps off the gangplank: Dante was killed at a protest rally, leaving her struggling to get by in an overcrowded conventillo where single women are expected to sew for a living and avoid the streets at night. But carrying her father’s violin and dressed in Dante’s clothes, she infiltrates the city’s rowdy tango clubs, typically attached to brothels. When a violinist is stabbed onstage, Leda sees an opening to enter this exclusively male world of musicians; taking her late husband’s name, she eventually plays a central role in a group that becomes a sensation over the next five years. Plotwise, the core story contains few surprises: the novel tracks Leda/Dante’s rise in this musical demimonde, with familiar star-is-born detail and somewhat purple reveries about the music’s uplift. But the character's gender switch (loosely inspired by the life of jazz pianist Billy Tipton, who passed as a man for decades) is a critical part of this novel, giving depth and a much-needed sense of surprise to the story. Relationships with various women, from prostitutes to the owner of the club where he performs, complicate Leda's shifting gender identity and thoughtfully raise questions of male power and the moral issues of Leda/Dante’s claiming and wielding it. The novel is a plea to embrace “the bright jagged thing you really are,” and in its hero’s more contemplative, interior moments, De Robertis captures the enormity of that struggle.

A conventional up-by-one’s-bootstraps tale redeemed by the complex musician at its center.

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-101-87449-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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