WAITING

A kind of Chinese Dr. Zhivago about a married army doctor who falls in love with a nurse during the Cultural Revolution, by Chinese exile Ha Jin (In the Pond, 1998, etc.). Starred-crossed lovers are the meat of tragedy the world over, and when political upheaval is thrown into the same pot, you—re almost guaranteed a pretty substantial stew. The focus of misery here is Lin Kong, a Chinese physician who serves as an officer in the Revolutionary Army. While a medical student in the early 1960s, Lin is pressured into an arranged marriage by his elderly parents, who choose Shuyu, an illiterate village girl who’s as plain as she is good-natured and who devotes herself wholeheartedly to providing every possible comfort for Lin and his parents. From the very start, Lin’s heart is never in the marriage, and after the birth of their only child, Lin and Shuyu sleep apart. The situation is helped somewhat by Lin’s army career, which keeps him posted at great distances from home and allows him only 12 days furlough a year. Eventually, though, the charade wears thin. Lin has fallen in love with Manna Wu, a nurse assigned to his hospital, and the two wish to marry. But for that a divorce is necessary, and divorce is the one request that Shuyu doesn—t want to grant her husband. Even if she did, the Court probably would not comply’since divorce is looked upon with deep suspicion by Party functionaries fearful of bourgeois self-indulgence. The only loophole available is a clause in the marriage code that permits divorce without spousal consent after 18 years of separation. So the years tick on, bringing Lin and Manna gradually closer to their happiness. But waiting has its price—and in the end it becomes clear that it’s been a high one. A deceptively simple tale, written with extraordinary precision and grace. Ha Jin has established himself as one of the great sturdy realists still writing in a postmodern age.

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Pub Date: Oct. 4, 1999

ISBN: 0-375-40653-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1999

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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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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