An impressive use of one family to intimately portray the history of social and cultural changes over three generations.

Isolated Connected Kyushu Island

IN A TRIANGLE OF WESTERN INFLUENCE, COMMUNISM AND LEGENDS

Spanning nearly 60 years, this work of historical fiction chronicles the multitude of cultural changes in Japan after World War II from the perspective of a conflicted family of three.

Labeled a “half-fiction” by its author, Yumiko’s debut takes place in postwar Japan, depicting a once-militaristic country rushing toward Western modernization. Hisaharu and his wife, Misao, (based on the author’s own parents) face great hardship in this new, ever shifting culture, both having grown up in small villages before the fall of Japan’s militarism in which their own ancestors’ histories had only begun to transform into legends. They have one child, a reserved girl named Jericho, and the family finds itself regularly uprooted by Hisaharu’s poorly paying position in Japan’s new, stigmatized Defense Force. Paralleling the family, Japan itself remains unsettled, with communism spreading rapidly among its neighbors while Western ideas conflicting with the shriveling tenants of traditional lifestyle begin to alter views on religion, agriculture, and the roles of women in this new society. The novel deftly limns its protagonist; though Hisaharu’s life is used as the story’s framing device, it still portrays him realistically—a thoughtful but not unimpeachable devourer of books with a work ethic cultivated from traditional thinking. Misao is also tied to the past. Her upbringing during wartime grants her spirit and inner strength while at the same time limiting her ability to adjust to new times. And when her parents’ stubbornness gets somewhat tiresome, Jericho subtly changes tack. Even characters who appear fleetingly—an ill-prepared American missionary, a sexually broken classmate, a disheveled teacher, and so many more—both accentuate and stand separate from Japanese history. Those unfamiliar with postwar Japan will find the story approachable and informative with its engaging core centered on the difficulties of raising a child in a changing world.

An impressive use of one family to intimately portray the history of social and cultural changes over three generations.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-1490863399

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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