An unsatisfying family epic that bites off more than it can chew.

ANYWHERE BUT HOME

A multigenerational saga of an Italian family that immigrates to Germany in the mid-20th century.

German fashion designer Julia Becker always believed that her father, Vincenzo, died when she was a child—at least, that’s what her mother, Tanja, had always told her. But her life turns upside down when a mysterious elderly man approaches her after a Milan Fashion Week show for her upstart clothing label, claims to be her long-lost grandfather, and reveals that her father is still alive. Though Julia at first refuses to believe him, she soon uncovers a trove of family secrets that forces her to reevaluate everything. The novel unfolds as a series of reminisces that begin with Julia’s grandfather Vincent’s journey from Munich to Milan to work on the Isetta bubble car in the 1950s, where he met, fell in love with, and impregnated Giulietta Marconi, a Sicilian woman who was engaged to her cousin Enzo. Though Vincent and Giulietta separate, Giulietta and Enzo later immigrate to Munich, and the old romance is rekindled. Speck effectively depicts the struggles of Italian “guest workers” facing discrimination in postwar Germany, but despite this noble enterprise, his novel lacks dramatic power. The book feels both too long and not long enough: At 520 pages, it's a hefty tome, but Speck tells the stories of so many members of Julia’s extended family that the book feels rushed; frustratingly, he often summarizes his characters’ feelings and motivations instead of letting them live and breathe on the page in fully realized dramatic scenes. The novel also suffers from an inconsistent framing device: Though it's written as a series of stories being told to Julia or as entries in Giulietta’s diary, those stories often include information that the narrators could never have known, which is disorienting to the reader.

An unsatisfying family epic that bites off more than it can chew.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-9012-4

Page Count: 477

Publisher: AmazonCrossing

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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A novel tailor-made for those who cherish books and libraries.

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THE PARIS LIBRARY

World War II Paris during the German occupation forms the setting for an intelligent and sensuously rich novel of a young woman's coming-of-age.

In 1939, Odile Souchet, the daughter of the captain of a police precinct, has just finished library school. She lands her dream job assisting patrons of the American Library, which serves both foreigners and Parisians, and falls in love with one of the police officers her father brings home for dinner. As the war proceeds and the Nazis take over the city, she fears for her twin brother, who has been captured by the Germans, places herself in danger by transporting books to Jewish patrons who are forbidden to visit the library, and begins to question some of her boyfriend's actions. Her story is juxtaposed with that of a teenager named Lily who, in 1983, lives in a small rural town in Montana. When Lily's mother becomes ill, Lily grows close to her previously frosty next-door neighbor Odile, who moved to Montana as a bride immediately after the war ended. While the chapters featuring Lily are snappy and often amusing, especially as she begins to adopt Parisian airs, they play a distinctly secondary role to those concerning Odile's life during the war. Structurally, the novel sometimes sags: Charles tends to move into the points of view of secondary characters, which leads to some repetition. But the author has a clear affection for both Paris and the American Library, where she worked as a programs manager in 2010, and she integrates the stories of many of the real-life employees and patrons of the library into the story with finesse, earning the novel its own place in the pantheon of World War II fiction.

A novel tailor-made for those who cherish books and libraries.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3419-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

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ANXIOUS PEOPLE

Eight people become unlikely friends during a hostage situation created by an inept bank robber.

In a town in Sweden, a desperate parent turns to bank robbery to help pay the rent. Unfortunately, the target turns out to be a cashless bank, which means that no robbery can take place. In an attempt to flee the police, the would-be perpetrator runs into a nearby apartment building and interrupts an open house, causing the would-be buyers to assume they're being held hostage. After the situation has ended with an absent bank robber and blood on the carpet, a father-and-son police pair work through maddening interviews with the witnesses: the ridiculous realtor; an older couple who renovates and sells apartments in an effort to stay busy; a bickering young couple expecting their first child; a well-off woman interested only in the view from the balcony of a significant bridge in her life; an elderly woman missing her husband as New Year’s Eve approaches; and, absurdly, an actor dressed as a rabbit hired to disrupt the showing and drive down the apartment price. Backman’s latest novel focuses on how a shared event can change the course of multiple people’s lives even in times of deep and ongoing anxiousness. The observer/narrator is winding and given to tangents and, in early moments, might distract a bit too much from the strongly drawn characters. But the story gains energy and sureness as it develops, resulting in moments of insight and connection between its numerous amiable characters.

A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6083-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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