This novel’s complex web of relationships makes for an ambitious literary debut.

CAIRO CIRCLES

Mahmoud’s debut novel explores family bonds and class tension in Egypt and the United States.

Spanning several decades in the lives of its characters, this novel puts a group of young Egyptians and Egyptian Americans through a host of familial, moral, and psychological challenges. Mahmoud takes his time in establishing the full scope of the story, but it gradually becomes clear that it's exploring the wake of two traumatic experiences. The book opens in 2002 with Zeina, a girl from a working-class background who has a fantastic singing voice. She dreams of growing up to be a professional singer, which puts her at odds with her family. Some time later, she vanishes. Meanwhile, Sheero, who lives in New York and narrates several of the chapters, discovers that his estranged cousin, Amir, has carried out a mass shooting in New York City. As Sheero looks back over his fraught relationship with Amir and loses himself in whiskey and cocaine, Zeina’s brothers, Omar and Mustafa, struggle to find places for themselves in Egypt, a country going through substantial political changes. Sheero’s best friend, Taymour—whose family employed Zeina’s mother as a maid—brings the two plotlines together. There’s a lot to admire here, from the way Mahmoud moves the action forward and backward in time and parcels out information about the different characters. But the novel can be frustrating in places—watching Sheero wrestle with both his memories and an onslaught of media attention in the aftermath of Amir’s violent act makes for compelling reading, but a large chunk of his inner conflict is resolved in passing late in the novel. It doesn’t always click seamlessly, but when this book hits its stride, it does so with great power.

This novel’s complex web of relationships makes for an ambitious literary debut.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-951213-36-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Unnamed Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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An exhilarating ride through Americana.

THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY

Newly released from a work farm in 1950s Kansas, where he served 18 months for involuntary manslaughter, 18-year-old Emmett Watson hits the road with his little brother, Billy, following the death of their father and the foreclosure of their Nebraska farm.

They leave to escape angry townspeople who believe Emmett got off easy, having caused the fatal fall of a taunting local boy by punching him in the nose. The whip-smart Billy, who exhibits OCD–like symptoms, convinces Emmett to drive them to San Francisco to reunite with their mother, who left town eight years ago. He insists she's there, based on postcards she sent before completely disappearing from their lives. But when Emmett's prized red Studebaker is "borrowed" by two rambunctious, New York–bound escapees from the juvie facility he just left, Emmett takes after them via freight train with Billy in tow. Billy befriends a Black veteran named Ulysses who's been riding the rails nonstop since returning home from World War II to find his wife and baby boy gone. A modern picaresque with a host of characters, competing points of view, wandering narratives, and teasing chapter endings, Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). You can quibble with one or two plot turns, but there's no resisting moments such as Billy's encounter, high up in the Empire State Building in the middle of the night, with professor Abacus Abernathe, whose Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers he's read 24 times. A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history.

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522235-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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