Slow-moving, long and meandering, like an Amazonian stream—with moments of beauty, but in need of a machete.

THE SEAMSTRESS

Two sisters work both banks of the river and both sides of the law, united in their knowledge of stitchery, in this ponderous semi-epic, set in the steamy Brazilian jungle in the 1920s and ’30s.

This debut novel from Peebles, a native of Brazil, concerns Emília and Luzia dos Santos, virtuous sisters living in poverty on one of the vast, near-feudal estates of the swampy interior. Emília is sentimental and gushy, given to praying to Saint Anthony to one day send her a prince—and soon, for as the book opens she is “nineteen and already an old maid.” Sister Luzia, meanwhile, has taken a nasty spill from a tall tree and been awarded cruel nicknames by the other kids for her troubles. Well, nothing will set a future revolutionary off like getting dissed by the local yokels, and so it goes: Luzia hooks up with the local peasant bandits-cum-revolutionaries, led by one Hawk, who “had become a cangaceiro when he killed the famous Colonel Bartolomeu of Serra Negra in his own study, bypassing the colonel’s capangas and gutting him with his own letter opener.” Bad way to go, that. Luzia, for her part, becomes a sure hand with most forms of contemporary weaponry, slaying one running dog of reaction after another (“The first cut’s always the hardest. After that, it gets easier”) while keeping her pinking shears within reach. And Emília—well, she’s gone off and married the son of a big landowner, since to do otherwise would have thrown the whole twin-track story off balance. Neither sister feels complete without the other, and neither has the true love she deserves—or does she? Emília’s a peach, but unappreciated; for all her deformities, Luzia has a certain Sonia Braga quality to her, but the Hawk is just plain paranoid, the hubby a drip and the jungle just too murky, which means only one thing: Darling, we love you, but give us Park Avenue or a pine box. Peebles’s novel is one of two about seamstresses being published in August (see the review of The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard by Erin McGraw, also in this issue).

Slow-moving, long and meandering, like an Amazonian stream—with moments of beauty, but in need of a machete.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-06-073887-7

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2008

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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