Grossman’s most entertaining book yet.

SOMEONE TO RUN WITH

An agreeably melodramatic sixth novel from the prizewinning author (Be My Knife, 2001, etc.).

Here, two Israeli teenagers undertake intersecting perilous quests. When Assaf, who’s 16 and enduring a demeaning summertime job at Jerusalem’s City Hall, is ordered to find (and fine) the owner of an obstreperous stray dog, he stumbles into a world reshaped by terrorist attacks, rampant criminality, and confused loyalties. Discovering that the person he seeks is a runaway girl (also 16) named Tamar, Assaf (and the dog, Dinka) prowl Jerusalem’s darkest corners, receiving leading information from Theodora, an aged Greek nun who hasn’t left her apartment in 50 years, yet seems to have been a de facto fairy godmother to vagabond youths and street people. Meanwhile, Grossman constructs a parallel narrative (beginning earlier than do Assaf’s adventures) of Tamar’s entry into a gang of street performers masterminded by criminal boss Pesach (whose other minions pick the pockets of his performers’ audiences). We learn that Tamar, a precociously gifted singer, is seeking her brother Shai, a heroin addict in thrall to Pesach. The two narratives move swiftly, eventually joining for a prolonged climax, during which Tamar and Assaf see Shai through a grueling withdrawal, and Assaf understands the necessity and comfort of having “someone to run with” in such embattled times. This is a consistently absorbing tale, even when much of it strains credibility. Neither Theodora nor Pesach, for example, is, strictly speaking, a believable character. But we soon see that she is Grossman’s version of Great Expectations’s immortal recluse Miss Havisham—and that he is another version of Oliver Twist’s enduringly creepy Fagin. The Dickensian provenance and romantic texture here—and the hyperbole with which its young protagonists’ exploits are imbued—in fact very effectively dramatize the experience of living in a volatile society and the resources required for survival therein.

Grossman’s most entertaining book yet.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-374-26657-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2003

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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