Imperfect but interesting fiction that might also be compared to Steven Millhauser’s Pulitzer–winner, Martin Dressler. It...

CARRY ME ACROSS THE WATER

A richly detailed, intriguingly fragmented chronicle of the personal history and turbulent inner life of a prosperous German-American businessman.

The story begins teasingly, with the text of a letter from a Japanese soldier written but never sent to his wife during WWII—a letter that, we soon learn, is in the possession of 78-year-old August Kleinman, more than a half-century after August had fought on Okinawa before returning home to make his fortune as a brewery owner. We learn all this and more as Canin (Blue River, 1999, etc.) explores various times in August’s past (escaping from Hitler’s Germany with his mother, who remarried in America; fending off gangsters who attempt to muscle in on his business; meeting LBJ at the White House and frankly criticizing the bombing of North Viet Nam; watching helplessly as his beloved wife Ginger sickens and dies) and his present (when he combats boredom by working as a supermarket bagger and befriending a young unmarried mother; bonding awkwardly with his younger son’s family). Ticking away in the background is that episode on Okinawa that prompts Kleinman’s journey in old age to Japan, to right an old wrong (whose full details are revealed only in the emotional closing pages) and to give himself peace. Too much of the story’s (impressive) wealth of personal-historical information seems summarized rather than dramatized, and there are odd little outcroppings of verbal imprecision not explained by Kleinman’s gradual mastery of English. Nevertheless, Canin’s protagonist is a fascinating character (not unlike Bellow’s Artur Sammler), and the full range of his emotions is movingly explored—from stoical remoteness through a passionate yearning to remain connected to things and people he fears he’s leaving behind, while reliving “ . . . the events of his life, which he now thought of broadly as the Flight, the Battle, the Riches, and the Decline.”

Imperfect but interesting fiction that might also be compared to Steven Millhauser’s Pulitzer–winner, Martin Dressler. It signals a new—and very promising—stage in Canin’s career.

Pub Date: May 8, 2001

ISBN: 0-679-45679-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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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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