BLISS, REMEMBERED

An uneven but entertaining historical love story.

Sportswriter and novelist Deford (The Entitled: A Tale of Modern Baseball, 2008, etc.) returns to fiction with a love story set at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin and stateside during World War II.

The author scored his greatest success with the 1981 football-themed novel Everybody’s All American, which was made into a movie starring Dennis Quaid and Jessica Lange. In this, his first novel since The Other Adonis (2001), he combines sports and fiction once again—this time focusing on the world of Olympic swimming. Sydney Stringfellow is an 18-year-old American swimmer who falls into an affair with German Horst Gerhardt while at the 1936 Games. Sydney returns to the States and later receives a breakup letter from Horst; heartbroken, she moves on with her life and gets married to an American—only to later learn a secret about Horst, eventually leading Sydney to commit a terrible act. The story is told by a cancer-stricken 86-year-old Sydney to her daughter Teddy in 2004. Teddy narrates the novel in the present day, remembering her mother’s tale and interjecting her own reactions to her mother’s shocking secrets. Sydney’s recollections, though at times melodramatic, are engaging, particularly when Deford portrays real-life historical figures—such as Eleanor Holm, the talented and confident American swimmer who was suspended from the 1936 competition, and Leni Riefenstahl, the brilliant and chilly German filmmaker. He also effectively invokes the atmosphere of 1936 Nazi Germany as World War II loomed. But the framing device of the novel can be distracting, and some may find the modern-day scenes less interesting than the glamorous flashback material.

An uneven but entertaining historical love story.

Pub Date: July 6, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59020-359-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2010

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

THE UNSEEN

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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