An intriguing view of a writer who well deserves another turn on the literary stage.

THE MAGICIAN

The Irish writer’s fictional portrait of Thomas Mann highlights his family life.

What adventures the Mann children have. Erika weds W.H. Auden to get a British passport. Monika survives the torpedo attack that sank the SS City of Benares in World War II. Golo finds that Alma Mahler wants to bring 23 suitcases along in their escape from occupied France. Tóibín chronicles the Mann clan—Thomas’ parents and siblings, his wife, and their six children—across some seven decades. It’s a busy, comprehensive narrative centered on a complex, conflicted husband, father, and writer facing family problems and crises and rarely failing to put in his four hours at the desk before lunch. Half the book’s time frame spans two world wars, and German politics is a constant, as some Manns are vocal while Thomas, always protective of his good name and livelihood, struggles with demands for him to speak out. Three of his grown children are open in their sexual fluidity, but he never publicly acknowledges his feelings about men (his revelatory diaries appeared 20 years after his death). The personal and public history is compelling, but the book may disappoint some readers' expectations. Fans of Mann may question the novel’s scant treatment of his writing. Fans of Tóibín’s The Master (2005) and its exploration of a crucial four-year span in Henry James’ life may be surprised at Tóibín’s tackling nearly all of Mann’s 80 years. The new novel does at times drag like a conventional biography with the weight of mundane details and repetition, and overall it feels overlong. But Tóibín succeeds in conveying his fascination with the Magician, as his children called him, who could make sexual secrets vanish beneath a rich surface life of family and uncommon art.

An intriguing view of a writer who well deserves another turn on the literary stage.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-4767-8508-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS

An ambitious young Italian woman makes her way among the émigrés of 1930s and ’40s Hollywood.

Maria Lagana has come to Los Angeles after her father is sentenced to confino—internal exile—for his anti-fascist advocacy in Mussolini’s Italy. Living with her mother in the Italian American neighborhood of Lincoln Heights—also home to a trio of no-nonsense great-aunts forever dressed in black—Maria finds work as a typist at Mercury Pictures International, working in the office of studio head Artie Feldman, a fast-talking showman with a collection of toupées for every occasion. In time, the letters from her father stop, and Maria becomes an associate producer, Artie’s trusted right hand, as well as the secret lover of Eddie Lu, a Chinese American actor relegated to roles as Japanese villains. When a young Italian immigrant turns up at her door introducing himself as Vincent Cortese, Maria’s past—and the mystery of what happened to her father—crashes into her present. Like the author’s earlier novels, the award-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013) and The Tsar of Love and Techno (2015), this one builds a discrete world and shows how its denizens are shaped—often warped—by circumstance. But the Hollywood setting feels overfamiliar and the characters curiously uninvolving. While the prose frequently sings, there are also ripely overwritten passages: At a party, the “thunking heels of lindy-hopping couples dimpled the boozy air”; fireworks are described as a “molten asterisk in the heavens to which the body on the ground is a footnote.”

The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-451-49520-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

THE MANY DAUGHTERS OF AFONG MOY

Covering 250 years, Ford’s new novel traces the way states of consciousness involving extreme moments of pain or joy interconnect seven generations of Chinese women.

Embedded images—airplanes, ships, waves—and the occasional ghostly vision highlight how these women’s lives reverberate as the focus moves back and forth in time. In 1942 China, Faye Moy, a nurse in her 50s who’s working with American forces, feels an eerie connection to a dying young pilot in whose pocket she finds a newspaper photograph of herself as a teenager and a note in her own handwriting that says, “FIND ME.” Finding oneself and/or one’s soul mate becomes the throughline of the book. Faye’s great-grandmother Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman in America, dies in childbirth after a short career being exhibited as a curiosity in the 1830s. Faye’s mother, Lai King (Afong’s granddaughter), sails to Canton after her parents’ deaths in San Francisco’s Chinatown fire of 1892. Onboard ship she bonds with a young White boy, also an orphan, and nurses him when contagion strikes. When Faye is 14, she has an illegitimate daughter who is adopted and raised in England. Presumably that girl is Zoe Moy, who, in 1927, attends the famously progressive Summerhill School, where a disastrous social experiment in fascism destroys her relationship with a beloved poetry teacher. In 2014, Zoe’s emotionally fragile granddaughter, Greta, loses both her skyrocketing tech career and the love of her life at the hands of an evil capitalist. While several earlier Moys receive aid and guidance from Buddhist monks, Greta’s troubled poet daughter, Dorothy, turns to both Buddhism and radical scientific treatment to uncover and understand how past crises, emotional, physical, and spiritual, are destabilizing her current life in 2045. Expect long treatises on anamnesis, quantum biology, and reincarnation before traveling with Dorothy’s adult daughter in 2086.

Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-5821-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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