Ruth laments, “I done lost most them I loved, and most my beloveds die ugly,” but this is the tale of Mammy, not Ruth.

RUTH'S JOURNEY

THE AUTHORIZED NOVEL OF MAMMY FROM MARGARET MITCHELL'S GONE WITH THE WIND

Authorized by the Margaret Mitchell estate, this historical novel takes up the story of Mammy, one of the most beloved minor characters in Gone With the Wind

McCaig’s (Canaan, 2007, etc.) latest serves as a prequel not only to Mitchell’s classic, but also to his own Rhett Butler’s People (2007). Ruth’s story actually begins with her first mistress’ story. Parisian heiress Solange Escarlette marries Augustin Fornier, the owner of a Caribbean sugar plantation. She soon discovers that her husband is rather ineffectual and that a slave revolt has reduced the prospects of the Sucarie du Jardin. Solange reveals herself to be both unsentimental and savvy. She saves the family’s fortunes; repositions them in Savannah, Georgia; and, rather incidentally, takes a young slave girl into her household. Indeed, Solange is a vivid, vivacious woman whose tale is bewitching, but, alas, we must leave her to see through Ruth’s eyes soon enough. Ruth’s imagined life should be fascinating—rescued from certain death on Saint-Domingue, plunged into the American slave system, and finally positioned as Miss Scarlett’s Mammy—yet McCaig instead simply uses Ruth as a lens through which to view a dramatic swath of history. Events both cataclysmic and quotidian swirl around Ruth—everything from the Haitian revolution and John Brown’s Rebellion to Miss Scarlett's first menstrual period. Yet Ruth’s own manifold troubles pass quickly, presumably to afford more time to her witnessing of events in drawing rooms and dueling fields. Gifted with second sight, Ruth sees mists around people not long for this earthly realm, but more often than not, her talent foreshadows the passings of masters, mistresses and their children. 

Ruth laments, “I done lost most them I loved, and most my beloveds die ugly,” but this is the tale of Mammy, not Ruth.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4353-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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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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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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