Random sharp insights and images are studded inside this leisurely and oddly innocent chronicle of British Gen-X slackers.

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THE COLOUR OF MEMORY

Dyer, the prolific British essayist and novelist who now lives in the U.S. and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Otherwise Known as the Human Condition (2011), published his first novel—an impressionistic, affectionate portrait of a group of 1980s British bohemians—in the U.K. in 1989.

A nameless narrator and five close friends in their mid-20s spend their days eating, drinking, smoking grass, talking and doing as little actual work as possible while living in the Brixton neighborhood of London. The narrator works dead-end marketing research jobs. Freddie, the narrator’s oldest and perhaps closest friend, is a would-be writer who seldom actually writes. Carlton obsesses about keeping his apartment clean. Steranko, whom the narrator envies and wishes he were more like, paints. When the narrator and Steranko both fall for beautiful Foomie, the narrator is not surprised that she chooses Steranko. Or that his own sister, Fran, and Steranko share an attraction. Sexual undercurrents run everywhere, but there is no sordidness and not much actual sex. Friendship is the important currency here. The narrator is a romantic, capturing images of his daily life in what he calls “an album of snaps.” He witnesses a stranger being beaten on the Tube but doesn’t step in; he meets a girl he’s attracted to, then remembers they met months before; he’s mugged but not hurt. He watches moments of random kindness and moments of cruelty. His friends have good and bad times. They discuss Nietzsche and listen to jazz. They live on the dole, getting stoned and wasted regularly. The narrator not only observes, but feels according to the situation: frequently boredom, occasionally fear, very occasionally exhilaration. This is less a plotted novel than a smudged valentine to young-adulthood friendships and the setting where they take place, 1980s Brixton, a slightly seedy, multiethnic district of London populated by immigrants and artistic types who live uneasily side by side.

Random sharp insights and images are studded inside this leisurely and oddly innocent chronicle of British Gen-X slackers.

Pub Date: May 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-55597-677-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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