Though the novel is quiet and occasionally dense with historical exposition, it offers a valuable window into Korean history...



Two sisters, estranged by circumstance, seek to forge a bond and understand their individual and shared histories.

Inja and Miran are near twins. Remarkably close in age, both are artistic and sensitive. But when the novel opens, in 1950, the two girls live on separate continents: When Miran’s parents left South Korea for the United States, they were only able to travel with one child. They chose Miran, who had been in poor health as an infant, and left Inja behind with her maternal grandparents, aunt and uncle. Though the family had planned to return for Inja, North Korean troops invade South Korea and war breaks out. Inja and her relatives are displaced to Busan, enduring hunger, cold, and constant instability; in America, Miran struggles to understand her parents’ anxiety and helplessness as they wait for news. The novel stretches from the early 1950s through the mid-'70s, alternating between Inja’s adolescence in a divided Korea and Miran’s coming-of-age in a differently tumultuous USA. Based loosely on Kim’s (The Calligrapher’s Daughter, 2009) own family history, as detailed in the author’s note, this elegant though frequently sentimental novel relies on the power of family secrets to propel the reader through the sisters’ lives. Inja, contemplating all she does not know of her American family—and vice versa—notes “the strange kind of power one gained from holding secrets.” Will Inja ever know the sister who is practically her twin? Will either sister ever truly understand Korea or America, or will they continue to exist in the space between?

Though the novel is quiet and occasionally dense with historical exposition, it offers a valuable window into Korean history as well as to issues like immigration and assimilation that couldn’t be more relevant today.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-328-98782-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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