Layered, nuanced, and deeply allusive; readers without a grounding in recent Balkans history may miss some of the clues. The...

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THE ENCOUNTER

An exiled scientist returns home to a country that has forgotten him. Or has it?

Odysseus wandered for years before arriving at Ithaca. Manu Traian has been away as long, having left his homeland before the Iron Curtain clanged shut. As this novel, the latest by the renowned Romanian writer Adamesteanu (Wasted Morning, 1983, etc.), opens, he is dreaming fitfully of running a gauntlet of officials demanding documents he cannot produce, then making his way, finally, to a place where he is now a ghost. It is a dream he has often. His name contains that of the Roman emperor Trajan, who conquered Romania, just as other names are suggestive of other times, other stories. Now that he is actually homeward bound, it’s the Securitate that means to conquer him, though, by ringing him with traps; invited to speak at a university, he flatters himself to think that his fame might be preceding him, without pausing to consider that the academics are implicated in the police state, as is everyone else. His German-born wife sees the danger clearly (“She knows it is too late to turn back. But she cannot stop herself from trying”), but he does not; his nephew, Daniel (think lion’s den), is perhaps the only innocent, but even he, the Telemachus of a book that resounds with allusions to and quotations from The Odyssey, is suspect. Even though there are hints everywhere that the Ceausescu regime is on its last legs, the police are vigilant enough to keep fat dossiers on everyone, from exiles to librarians (“It’s no accident that his daughter is called Mihaela, he says that he gave her this name in memory and honor of the last king of the former bourgeois-landowning Romania”). Still, in the end they have nothing to pin on Traian, who bungles through somehow—which is no guarantee of a happy ending.

Layered, nuanced, and deeply allusive; readers without a grounding in recent Balkans history may miss some of the clues. The meaning of the story is clear enough, though, even if parts are opaque.

Pub Date: April 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-56478-953-2

Page Count: 277

Publisher: Dalkey Archive

Review Posted Online: Feb. 29, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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