A seductively dark, wholly imaginative piece of historical fiction.

MASTER OF PROVIDENCE

A thoroughly engaging tale of love, mystery, murder and revolt set against the backdrop of antebellum Virginia.

Counihan’s new novel begins like Dickens. A young Londoner stuck between classes in the stratified society of 19th-century England is orphaned when his mother dies of cholera. But this fatherless boy, Victor Neville, is no Oliver Twist. He has a patron in his American uncle Robert, and he’s whisked away to his rich relative’s Virginia homestead, Providence Plantation. What was Dickens now feels more like Margaret Mitchell. In the hands of a lesser author, such a transoceanic shift would seem abrupt, amateurish or unbelievable, but Counihan is no such author, and we follow him—and Victor—willingly across the Atlantic Ocean to find what new adventures await the young boy. The work then sets up like a bildungsroman that will tell the story of Victor’s maturation. But 40 pages in, the novel morphs from a simple coming-of-age tale into a mysterious, inventive take on the subgenre of plantation fiction. After his arrival in Virginia, Victor saves one of his uncle’s slaves from the sexual predations of the overseer, Murphy. In the aftermath, a violent turn of events leaves Robert and Murphy dead and Victor recovering from shock in the care of the young woman he saved, Cleo. As he and Cleo become romantically entangled, Victor witnesses a sort of soft coup that leaves the slaves in a precarious state of freedom as the Civil War looms. Throughout, Counihan writes with grace and confidence. His prose is governed by a tight economy of language that leaves few wasted words. However, his tight writing is not sparse, and it leaves room for him to indulge in both lush descriptions of land and architecture and flights of philosophical fancy. Further, his recreation of 19th-century Virginia feels historically accurate. The author’s extensive knowledge of the Civil War—Counihan has a Ph.D. in American history—serves as the tale’s foundation, never as mere ornament.

A seductively dark, wholly imaginative piece of historical fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2011

ISBN: 978-1451579512

Page Count: 316

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Award Finalist

CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

more