A work marked by brilliant conceits and clever plotting.

A GUIDE FOR THE PERPLEXED

Horn (All Other Nights, 2009, etc.) is nothing if not ambitious in concocting this stew of Middle East politics, computer sci-fi, Jewish philosophy and romantic melodrama about a Jewish techno-entrepreneur taken hostage in post-Mubarak Egypt.

The wonderful title comes from the 11th-century work by Maimonides rediscovered in the 1890s by Solomon Schechter of Cambridge University, who found pages of Maimonides’ writing in an Egyptian synagogue storeroom called a genizah. Interwoven with a less than effective re-telling of Maimonides and Schechter’s history, Horn’s present-day fiction concerns the beautiful if geeky genius Josie, who borders on autistic in her lack of empathy for others. California-based Josie has invented a software program, not coincidentally called Genizah, which tracks and stores the moments a person is experiencing in order to turn them into a full memory of her/his life. Her company is thriving, and Josie is happily married to handsome Israeli Itamar. She chooses to ignore her 6-year-old daughter Tali’s worrisome emotional quirks, perhaps because her own childhood memories include being an outcast among her doltish peers, including her older sister Judith. Judith’s memories differ from Josie’s—she is haunted by her mother’s favoritism toward Josie and her inescapable role as the lesser sister. Employed by Josie’s company, she is lonely and jealous that everything comes so easily to Josie. Then Josie is kidnapped while consulting with the Library of Alexandria in Egypt. Believing Josie has been killed, Itamar and Tali depend increasingly on Judith, who blossoms into the loving person she always wanted to be. But Josie is not dead. She is busy creating a genizah so her Egyptian captor can recreate the life of his dead son. The philosophical questions raised are intriguing, if faddish: Is God omniscient? What is memory, and can it be trusted? What is the relationship between past and present? What is time dilation? The psychological plot concerning the characters is less captivating, although Judith is a standout.

A work marked by brilliant conceits and clever plotting.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-393-06489-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 19, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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