A modest but affecting work with timeless relevance.

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THE TALE OF A NIGGUN

A narrative poem explores a ghastly dilemma faced by Jewish ghetto dwellers during World War II.

Written in the late 1970s and included in a long-out-of-print collection of Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Wiesel's essays, the poem is set on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Purim. That's when the "enemy" (the word "Nazi" is never used) announces they will massacre everyone in the ghetto unless 10 Jews are turned over for hanging—this to avenge the killing of the 10 sons of Haman, the anti-Semitic scourge of the Purim story. Overwhelmed by this unthinkable dilemma, the ghetto rabbi feels "his knees weakening, the blood rushing to his face." Searching for answers, he consults the great religious thinkers through their writings. Maimonides, the Rambam, states that a community should perish before handing over one of its members to the enemy, but pressed by the rabbi, his talking spirit concedes that he can't be of help because he never could have foreseen such a predicament. The Baal Shem Tov, or Besht, the founder of Hasidism, teaches the rabbi a special niggun, or song, that confers hidden powers "to break the chains of evil and malediction." But the Besht is so overcome by sadness that he can't infuse the song with the joy it needs. Ultimately, when the niggun is sung by the ghetto community, it conjures a miraculous coming together of Jews—not only from all over Europe, but also from the pages of the Talmud. Accompanied by Podwal's quietly haunting full-page illustrations, Wiesel's spare language cuts to the heart of human loss while the rhythms of the poetry capture the sad, endless march of inhumanity through history. At the same time, this poem sings out the power of belief and community and love.

A modest but affecting work with timeless relevance.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-805-24363-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Schocken

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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Slow moving and richly layered.

THE SEARCHER

A retired cop takes one last case in this stand-alone novel from the creator of the Dublin Murder Squad.

Originally from North Carolina, Cal Hooper has spent the last 30 years in Chicago. “A small place. A small town in a small country”: That’s what he’s searching for when he moves to the West of Ireland. His daughter is grown, his wife has left him, so Cal is on his own—until a kid named Trey starts hanging around. Trey’s brother is missing. Everyone believes that Brendan has run off just like his father did, but Trey thinks there’s more to the story than just another young man leaving his family behind in search of money and excitement in the city. Trey wants the police detective who just emigrated from America to find out what’s really happened to Brendan. French is deploying a well-worn trope here—in fact, she’s deploying a few. Cal is a new arrival to an insular community, and he’s about to discover that he didn’t leave crime and violence behind when he left the big city. Cal is a complex enough character, though, and it turns out that the mystery he’s trying to solve is less shocking than what he ultimately discovers. French's latest is neither fast-paced nor action-packed, and it has as much to do with Cal’s inner life as it does with finding Brendan. Much of what mystery readers are looking for in terms of action is squeezed into the last third of the novel, and the morally ambiguous ending may be unsatisfying for some. But French’s fans have surely come to expect imperfect allegiance to genre conventions, and the author does, ultimately, deliver plenty of twists, shocking revelations, and truly chilling moments.

Slow moving and richly layered.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-73-522465-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Addressing race, risk, retreat, and the ripple effects of a national emergency, Alam's novel is just in time for this moment.

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LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND

An interrupted family vacation, unexpected visitors, a mysterious blackout—something is happening, and the world may never be the same.

On a reassuringly sunny summer day, Amanda, an account director in advertising; Clay, a college professor; and their children, Archie, 15, and Rose, 13, make their way from Brooklyn to a luxury home (swimming pool! hot tub! marble countertops!) in a remote area of Long Island they’ve rented for a family vacation. Shortly after they arrive, however, the family’s holiday is interrupted by a knock on the door: The house’s owners, a prosperous older Black couple—George Washington and his wife, Ruth—have shown up unannounced because New York City has been plunged into a blackout and their Park Avenue high-rise apartment didn’t feel safe. Soon it becomes clear that the blackout is a symptom (or is it a cause?) of something larger—and nothing is safe. Has there been a nuclear or climate disaster, a war, a terrorist act, a bomb? Alam’s story unfolds like a dystopian fever dream cloaked in the trappings of a dream vacation: Why do hundreds of deer show up in the house’s well-maintained backyard or a flock of bright-pink flamingos frolic in the family pool and then fly away? What is the noise, loud enough to crack glass, that comes, without warning, once and then, later, repeatedly? Is it safer to go back to the city, to civilization, or to remain away, in a world apart? As they search for answers and adjust to what increasingly appears to be a confusing new normal, the two families—one Black, one White; one older, one younger; one rich, one middle-class—are compelled to find community amid calamity, to come together to support each other and survive. As he did in his previous novels, Rich and Pretty (2016) and That Kind of Mother (2018), Alam shows an impressive facility for getting into his characters’ heads and an enviable empathy for their moral shortcomings, emotional limitations, and failures of imagination. The result is a riveting novel that thrums with suspense yet ultimately offers no easy answers—disappointing those who crave them even as it fittingly reflects our time.

Addressing race, risk, retreat, and the ripple effects of a national emergency, Alam's novel is just in time for this moment.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-266763-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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