A stunning collection of memories, snippets, and specters.

HERE IN BERLIN

A visitor to Berlin accumulates the haunting stories of its residents.

When a nameless traveler comes to contemporary Berlin, to learn about the city and about herself, she confronts first the challenge of language and then, once that is conquered, the challenge of understanding. As she meets more people, walks more streets, her diligent recording illustrates how an interloper can learn by listening, observing, asking. As one character astutely and elegantly notes, “When one no longer belongs to a tribe—or is a newcomer, a visitor, like you—everything reveals itself.” Along the visitor’s way she meets characters of all kind, their binding attribute the lasting effects of the desperation, trauma, and violence of World War II: a Jewish woman who hid for 37 days, buried in a sarcophagus in a church graveyard, surviving on poetry; a man who lived through the war as a “homosexual decoy, recruiting foreign informants”; a woman whose mother tried to kill her three times—once by “stuffing an oil-soaked rag down her throat,” once by abandoning her in a jungle, and once by slashing her with a blunt machete—who is now pregnant with her own child; a man who traveled to Alabama for the Nazi Party to research the preaching abilities of African-American pastors so their skills might be adapted for the Führer. García, author of Dreaming in Cuban (1992), which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and more recently King of Cuba (2013), is a skilled writer, crafting a complete story from the threads of many glimpses. In the assembly of these glimpses, she has created a vivid portrait of a decimated yet surging Berlin since World War II, of individuality and humankind, of terror and resilience. It is beautifully written in a fluent and evocative prose. It is the story of how people live with their pasts.

A stunning collection of memories, snippets, and specters.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61902-959-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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