Not as ambitious or challenging as Donoghue in absolute top form (say, Room), but readable, well crafted, and absorbing.

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AKIN

Revisiting his birthplace in France, a retired university professor reckons with his past—and, unexpectedly, the future in the form of a great-nephew.

Noah hasn’t seen Nice since his mother sent him to join his father in the U.S. when he was 4, during World War II. He plans to celebrate his 80th birthday there, and he certainly wasn’t planning to take along 11-year-old Michael, illegitimate son of Noah’s ne’er-do-well nephew, Victor. But Michael's mother is in jail on drug charges—probably taking the rap for Victor, who subsequently OD’d—and the grandmother who was taking care of the boy just died; there is literally no one else, says the desperate social worker who phones Noah as a last resort. With her characteristic storytelling brio, Donoghue (The Lotterys Plus One, 2017, etc.) sets up a fraught situation with multiple unresolved issues. Instead of a leisurely visit to Nice, possibly tracking down the locations of some enigmatic photographs his mother took during the war, Noah is stuck with a foulmouthed, sullen tween who rarely lifts his eyes from his battered phone. Granted, it’s predictable that this mismatched pair will ultimately come to grudging mutual respect and even affection, but Donoghue keeps sentimentality to a minimum and deftly maintains a suspenseful plot. Michael’s digital skills come in handy as Noah investigates the unpleasant possibility that his mother was a Nazi collaborator, and his (minimal) confidences reveal a history of poverty and loss that makes the boy’s thorny character understandable. Noah, still holding internal conversations with his beloved wife, Joan, nine years after her death, knows something about loss, and he struggles to be patient. Donoghue’s realistic portrait of Michael includes enough rudeness and defiance to make the pair’s progress toward détente bumpy and believable. The story of Noah’s mother turns out to be more complicated and even sadder than he had feared, leading to a beautiful meditation on how we preserve the past as we prepare for the future. Noah and Michael, humanly flawed and all the more likable for that, deserve their happy ending.

Not as ambitious or challenging as Donoghue in absolute top form (say, Room), but readable, well crafted, and absorbing.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-49199-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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