A searing, eye-opening tale of innocence destroyed.
Alfa Ndiaye, a young Senegalese man recruited into the French army as a rifleman, confronts the madness of World War I and his role in that madness.
The book opens on a note of anguish, with Alfa recalling his shameful inability to help his childhood friend Mademba Diop, who was eviscerated on the battlefield. Mademba begged Alfa to end his suffering by slitting his throat, but Alfa couldn't bring himself to do that to his "more-than-brother." Tormented by the failure, Alfa took it out on the enemy by sneaking across "pools of blood" every night to gut German soldiers with his machete. At first, Alfa's fellow "Chocolats," as they were known, were impressed by his boldness and cunning. But his strange practice of bringing back each victim's severed hand with the rifle it fired convinced them he was an evil sorcerer. Alfa, who had never previously stepped outside his village, tells of his beautiful mother, who abandoned him when he was a boy to search for her father, a shepherd, and never returned; Alfa's own father, who had three other wives; and the village chief's daughter, who risked her father's wrath by making love to Alfa before he went off to war because, as he says, "to die without knowing all of the pleasures of the body isn’t fair." French West African writer Diop's short but emotionally packed second novel illuminates an underreported chapter in French and Senegalese history. Part folklore, part existential howl, and part prose poem, it is a heartbreaking account of pointless suffering. Ultimately, Alfa is left wondering why his physical power can't translate into "peace, tranquility and calm." Though God is ever present in Alfa's thoughts, he can't help but ask why God "lags behind us."A searing, eye-opening tale of innocence destroyed.
Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020
Page Count: 160
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online: July 13, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020
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by Barbara Kingsolver ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 18, 2022
An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2022
New York Times Bestseller
Pulitzer Prize Winner
Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.
It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.
Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022
Page Count: 560
Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022
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by Nathan Hill ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 26, 2023
A warmhearted satire that chronicles our “perfectly, stupidly, dreadfully elegant” accommodations to life.
A bittersweet novel of love gained, lost, and regained over the course of decades.
“They stare across the alley, into dark apartments, and they don’t know it, but they’re staring at each other.” It’s not an outtake from Hitchcock’s Rear Window but instead the wistful longings of two lonely people. Jack Baker, newly arrived in Chicago from Kansas in the 1990s, is a talented photographer who bristles when practical-minded people ask him what his work is about—to say nothing of why he works with Polaroids, which, a hipster friend reminds him, “are mass-produced, instant, cheap, impermanent.” Yes, and that’s the point, for though Jack comes from the windblown prairie, he’s pretty avant-garde. Elizabeth Augustine is a quadruple major at DePaul, “five majors if you count theater, which I have no talent for but enjoy nonetheless,” and exactly the woman Jack hoped he would meet. Life proceeds: That arty hipster becomes a real estate mogul who plants them in a development very much outside their price range until Elizabeth pulls down the big bucks from the psychological research firm that gives Hill’s latest its simple title. “Basically they were a watchdog group, a subcontractor for the FDA and FTC, sniffing out bullshit,” Hill writes, but Elizabeth, scraping by while Jack pulls down pennies as an adjunct professor, discovers that there’s hay to be made creating bullshit rather than exposing it—making airplane seats narrower, for instance, and then selling once normal-sized seats at a premium. Hill romps through our soufflélike culture with a nice sendup of academic literature and broad jabs at memes ranging from organic food (“one-hundred-percent bioavailable”) to progressive parenting, open marriage, and cult behavior (“Elizabeth knew...that the thing that most effectively strengthened and deepened delusions was being surrounded by people who shared the same delusions”) while delivering a story that suggests that while love may not conquer all, it makes a good start.A warmhearted satire that chronicles our “perfectly, stupidly, dreadfully elegant” accommodations to life.
Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2023
Page Count: 624
Review Posted Online: June 21, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2023
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