by Fatima Bhutto ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 18, 2020
An astute and searing take on anomie and radicalization.
Bhutto’s second novel explores Islamist extremism and its roots in class divides through the stories of young people.
The narration of this novel switches among the points of view of three characters representing different socio-economic groups. Anita Rose lives in a Karachi slum with her mother, Zenobia, and brother, Ezra. The family subsists on Zenobia’s earnings as a masseuse until Ezra advances their lot through what all evidence points to as organized crime. Anita befriends Osama, an elderly neighbor, who imparts to her an enthusiasm for leftist ideology and Urdu poetry. First seen at his family’s London pied-à-terre, Monty is the cosseted son of a Karachi real estate mogul. British-born Sunny, ne Salman, has disappointed his middle-class father’s expectations for him in Portsmouth, England, where “Pa” had immigrated from his native Lucknow with high hopes of seamless assimilation. Now, instead of pursuing a business degree, Sunny falls under the spell of his charismatic cousin Oz, recently returned from a jihadi camp in Syria. These are all, in a sense, narratives of exile and renunciation, and their poignancy is deepened by the characters’ inner struggles. At 17, Anita has reinvented herself—at the elite private school she attends, thanks to Ezra—as the ineffably cool “Layla.” Her romance with her classmate Monty, who adores her, is overshadowed by his privilege. Layla will become a jihadi influencer whose videos inspire adherents of the ISIS-like Ummah Movement. Her transition from promising student to outlaw is linked—we won’t immediately learn how—to a fateful trip to Dubai at Ezra’s behest. Sunny forswears his passion for music to join Ummah in Mosul, and he and Monty, who has joined to search for Layla, are sent on a mission. Their internet access, even on a trek across the desert, proves to be more curse than blessing. In fact, social media exposures—some a little too conveniently timed—are a major driver of plot twists here.An astute and searing take on anomie and radicalization.
Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020
Page Count: 432
Review Posted Online: June 2, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020
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by James McBride ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 8, 2023
If it’s possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can’t James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2023
New York Times Bestseller
McBride follows up his hit novel Deacon King Kong (2020) with another boisterous hymn to community, mercy, and karmic justice.
It's June 1972, and the Pennsylvania State Police have some questions concerning a skeleton found at the bottom of an old well in the ramshackle Chicken Hill section of Pottstown that’s been marked for redevelopment. But Hurricane Agnes intervenes by washing away the skeleton and all other physical evidence of a series of extraordinary events that began more than 40 years earlier, when Jewish and African American citizens shared lives, hopes, and heartbreak in that same neighborhood. At the literal and figurative heart of these events is Chona Ludlow, the forbearing, compassionate Jewish proprietor of the novel’s eponymous grocery store, whose instinctive kindness and fairness toward the Black families of Chicken Hill exceed even that of her husband, Moshe, who, with Chona’s encouragement, desegregates his theater to allow his Black neighbors to fully enjoy acts like Chick Webb’s swing orchestra. Many local White Christians frown upon the easygoing relationship between Jews and Blacks, especially Doc Roberts, Pottstown’s leading physician, who marches every year in the local Ku Klux Klan parade. The ties binding the Ludlows to their Black neighbors become even stronger over the years, but that bond is tested most stringently and perilously when Chona helps Nate Timblin, a taciturn Black janitor at Moshe’s theater and the unofficial leader of his community, conceal and protect a young orphan named Dodo who lost his hearing in an explosion. He isn’t at all “feeble-minded,” but the government wants to put him in an institution promising little care and much abuse. The interlocking destinies of these and other characters make for tense, absorbing drama and, at times, warm, humane comedy. McBride’s well-established skill with narrative tactics may sometimes spill toward the melodramatic here. But as in McBride’s previous works, you barely notice such relatively minor contrivances because of the depth of characterizations and the pitch-perfect dialogue of his Black and Jewish characters. It’s possible to draw a clear, straight line from McBride’s breakthrough memoir, The Color of Water (1996), to the themes of this latest work.If it’s possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can’t James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?
Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2023
Page Count: 400
Review Posted Online: May 9, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2023
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by Mitch Albom ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 14, 2023
A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.
Truth and deception clash in this tale of the Holocaust.
Udo Graf is proud that the Wolf has assigned him the task of expelling all 50,000 Jews from Salonika, Greece. In that city, Nico Krispis is an 11-year-old Jewish boy whose blue eyes and blond hair deceive, but whose words do not. Those who know him know he has never told a lie in his life—“Never be the one to tell lies, Nico,” his grandfather teaches him. “God is always watching.” Udo and Nico meet, and Udo decides to exploit the child’s innocence. At the train station where Jews are being jammed into cattle cars bound for Auschwitz, Udo gives Nico a yellow star to wear and persuades him to whisper among the crowd, “I heard it from a German officer. They are sending us to Poland. We will have new homes. And jobs.” The lad doesn’t know any better, so he helps persuade reluctant Jews to board the train to hell. “You were a good little liar,” Udo later tells Nico, and delights in the prospect of breaking the boy’s spirit, which is more fun and a greater challenge than killing him outright. When Nico realizes the horrific nature of what he's done, his truth-telling days are over. He becomes an inveterate liar about everything. Narrating the story is the Angel of Truth, whom according to a parable God had cast out of heaven and onto earth, where Truth shattered into billions of pieces, each to lodge in a human heart. (Obviously, many hearts have been missed.) Truth skillfully weaves together the characters, including Nico; his brother, Sebastian; Sebastian’s wife, Fannie; and the “heartless deceiver” Udo. Events extend for decades beyond World War II, until everyone’s lives finally collide in dramatic fashion. As Truth readily acknowledges, his account is loaded with twists and turns, some fortuitous and others not. Will Nico Krispis ever seek redemption? And will he find it? Author Albom’s passion shows through on every page in this well-crafted novel.A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.
Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2023
Page Count: 352
Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023
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