Set in Ethiopia in the 1950s, Ambau’s moving tale is a lively coming-of-age story with merging themes of forgiveness and redemption.

Desta’s early years are filled with longing—to be loved more fully by his family and to understand why he is so often the object of his brothers’ torment. He longs, too, for the day he will climb the mountain beyond his home to touch the sky and gather the clouds in his hands. For several years, he plans what he’ll take on his journey, but he is too young to make the trek alone, and his sisters and mother repeatedly fall back on their promises to accompany him. On the eve of Desta’s seventh birthday and his rite of passage into adulthood, his father, Abraham, reveals the duties that will now be expected of him; aside from his new grown-up responsibilities of tending animals and helping with harvests, Desta and his niece, Astair, have been tasked with contacting the spirits—with the assistance of a sorcerer, Deb’tera Tayé—to ask for help in resolving his sister Saba’s inability to conceive and carry a son to term. Desta’s real troubles begin when a cloudlike man appears to him during the spiritual ceremony, providing instructions for Abraham and his family that will further anger Desta’s brothers and turn them even more vehemently against him. To make matters worse, many in the community laugh at the boy and scorn him for what they suspect are wild imaginings. Ambau’s deft descriptions of spiritual happenings and ancient blessings transport the reader to another time and place that almost seamlessly alternates between the magical world of the cloud man—“stippled with dots and tinged with gold”—and the despairing reality of a little boy who suffers brutal beatings at the hands of those he loves. Readers may wonder what caused the abrupt shift in Abraham’s character when he whips the boy mercilessly, since the author has shown us a gentle and compassionate father to this point. One might also wonder at the quickness with which young Desta puts the affair behind him, as he later does again when slighted by his father at a family feast. Throughout, Ambau shows us a boy who is perhaps unusually resilient and abundantly forgiving of his father, yet real enough to be mightily challenged in his attempts to forgive his bullying brothers. Desta’s strength and tenacity in this first volume will entice many readers to eagerly anticipate the next installment of the young boy’s journey and the continuation of his family’s saga.


Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2010

ISBN: 978-1884459016

Page Count: 446

Publisher: Falcon Press International

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2011

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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