An ambitious project effectively executed.

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THE PALACE OF ILLUSIONS

Divakaruni (Queen of Dreams, 2005, etc.) offers a quasi-feminist retelling of the great Hindu text known as the Mahabharata.

Among the world’s longest epic poems and dated to the 5th century BCE, the Mahabharata traces the dynasty of the Pandava brothers, from the circumstances of their birth to the great war fought for the honor of Panchaali to their last days in search of spiritual peace. Gods intervene, divine weapons waylay whole battalions, a fantastical palace inspires a war, yet Divakaruni manages to keep the story human and relevant, also about a woman, her marriage, her mother-in-law. The plot remains essentially true to the original, but here the story is narrated by Panchaali, born out of fire to avenge her father. It is decreed that she will change history, and she certainly begins well when she marries all five of the Pandava brothers (by a strange bit of misunderstanding, the brothers’ mother insists that the brothers must share all of their good fortune). Panchaali becomes queen and builds for herself the Palace of Illusions, the most magnificent dwelling on earth, made of marble and magic. But Panchaali’s worldly triumphs are paired with her spiritual failings: her pride, her need for vengeance and the secret love she holds for Karna, her husbands’ greatest enemy. When her husband Yudhisthir loses their kingdom gambling, Panchaali and her husbands are forced into forest exile for 12 years, and when they re-emerge, they begin the war that will pit all the kings of India against each other, and will fulfill the prophesy of Panchaali’s birth. Throughout the story, there is one constant in Panchaali’s life—the benevolent presence of Krishna, her greatest friend (she vaguely suspects he is divine) and ally. Occasionally the novel falls flat—decades and events flash by with mere mention, one suspects a result of compressing such a rich work into such a small space—but Divakaruni mostly succeeds in creating an intimate, feminine portrait that is both contemporary and timeless.

An ambitious project effectively executed.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-385-51599-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2007

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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