Relentlessly depressing and grim, Rai’s book offers an array of unlikable characters against a backdrop that would make...



Rai’s novel takes readers to an India where women are little more than a commodity and burden and life is a daily struggle.

Mamta is old to be marrying. At 20, with a disfiguring facial birthmark, she has known nothing but deprivation and scorn her entire life. Her father hates her so much that once she became betrothed, he ordered her mother to feed her only enough to keep her alive. Her conception brings back only pain and bitter memories to her mother. Mamta remembers nothing but deep poverty in the rural village where she has lived since birth. But all of that changes for her, or at least she hopes it will change, when she is finally to be married. In her part of India, where most girls are symbolically wed at age 8 and taken to the marriage bed as soon as they start menstruating, Mamta is an oddity. She has dreamt about the day her prince will come for her on a fine horse, but when he does show up, he is anything but a prince. Like the other men in her life, her new husband is no bargain. When Mamta dons her red wedding dress for the ceremony, she discovers she has traded one terrible life for another. Soon, she is given a choice and she makes it, but that decision only haunts her over the coming years. Rai, a journalist, writes with deep understanding of the poverty and pain of women whose lives are literally at the mercy of men. Although she is skilled, she also tends to be longwinded and her story meanders, leaving the reader wondering what one passage has to do with other. She has also populated her tale with a dizzying amount of characters: Readers will have to stay on their toes to sort them out.

Relentlessly depressing and grim, Rai’s book offers an array of unlikable characters against a backdrop that would make Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm grab a bottle of antidepressants.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-200035-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2010

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

Did you like this book?