An astute and searing take on anomie and radicalization.

READ REVIEW

THE RUNAWAYS

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

ISBN: 978-1-83976-034-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Verso

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more