A novel powerful in both its beauty and its uncompromising horror whose themes are as sadly timely as they are eternal.

READ REVIEW

ABOVE US THE MILKY WAY

A semiautobiographical debut by author/illustrator Karimi offers the illuminated fragments of one family’s memories as they emigrate from Afghanistan to the United States.

“In the beginning,” Karimi states in the early pages of this saturated, elliptical novel, “the taking and the killing was not particular, not honed. They took those who did not look right, who walked askew, who spoke the wrong words in the wrong place to the wrong individual….Later, they had names, they had addresses.” It is 1980, and the Soviet army has invaded Afghanistan, ushering in an era of paranoia, reprisal, state-sponsored torture, and bloodshed. A man has been denounced by a colleague, or perhaps total stranger, forced to recite a list of "fellow collaborators" on live television. The patriarch of the family at the center of this book’s spiral constellation of memories, fables, illustrations, and evidence is on the list. Facing almost certain detention, and probable death, the father, mother, and five daughters flee the country, knowing they will likely never see either their homeland or their beloved extended family again. In America, the five sisters form a new life—one demarcated by before and after—as their father and mother find new work, new friendships, new lives, and new ways of defining themselves both as victims and survivors. Meanwhile, the gruesome harvest of war continues, shivering along the connecting cords of cultural and personal memory to touch every part of the sisters’ world. Structured as an illuminated alphabet, Karimi’s startling debut pieces together a pastiche of memory, folklore, and multilayered sense impressions with photographs from Karimi’s childhood and illustrations of her own making. The result is a sharply etched treatise on the objects of memory—encouraging a perhaps unavoidable comparison to Proust—which sets itself the monumental task of exploring the atrocity of war both as the bombs strike and as they reverberate down through the generations. Because, as Karimi concludes, a “war in one place is like a wound in all,” and what else but the letters of an alphabet, or perhaps sisters, could, “give positive form to the formless” by being “forever in two places at once: bound to their fixed positions—for who could reorder the sequence of an alphabet?—and leaving their posts to form this…word.”

A novel powerful in both its beauty and its uncompromising horror whose themes are as sadly timely as they are eternal.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64605-002-4

Page Count: 440

Publisher: Deep Vellum

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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