A thoughtful historical novel that’s often hampered by uninspired prose.

CRY EDEN

A Jewish man and his Palestinian wife brace for the impact of the Yom Kippur War in this final volume of Gershowitz’s (Heirs of Eden, 2013, etc.) trilogy.

Noah Greenspan and Alexandra Salaman met in their youth and fell in love despite the cultural divide that separated them—he’s a Jewish American, and she’s originally from Palestine. Now, in 1973, the acrimony between Middle Eastern Arab nations and Israel reaches a boiling point as Egypt and Syria jointly attack the latter in the hopes of gaining control over the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Alexandra, a prominent journalist for the Washington Evening Star, struggles to cover the war objectively, mindful of the ways in which her personal background will influence her readers, who will be looking for hints of bias or betrayal: “I’ve bent over backwards to maintain credibility with those on both sides of the Middle East conflict,” she tells Noah at one point. “We were displaced Palestinians, but I owe my life to the Israelis. For God’s sake, our son, Amos, is named after an Israeli.” Meanwhile, Noah, who’s serving as the chairman of the prominent Jewish Council of Greater Washington, is called upon by Democratic U.S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington state to help pressure President Richard Nixon’s administration to more aggressively support Israel. Meanwhile, a Palestinian terrorist, Omar Samir, who harbors seething resentment toward Alexandra for what he perceives as treachery against her own people, plots to kidnap her 5-year-old son, Amos—who’s named after the aforementioned Mossad agent who once saved her life.  Gershowitz intelligently brings the tumult of the 1973 setting to life, not only capturing the geopolitical tension that roiled the world, but also the complex, specific intramural politics of the United States, Israel, and Egypt. He’s at the top of his game, though, when he portrays the emotional strain that the war puts on Noah and Alexandra’s otherwise happy marriage. She’s shown to be particularly torn, as she’s genuinely devoted to her beleaguered people, but also mindful of the depredations that Israel suffers. The author handles her torment with impressive aplomb while also offering a model of political writing that avoids even a whiff of ideological grandstanding. That said, Gershowitz’s prose can be disappointingly anodyne, often swinging between bland clarity and breathless melodrama. This is particularly true of the dialogue, which manages to be emotionally overwrought and stiltedly earnest at the same time. In response to Alexandra’s unexpected job offer, for example, a journalist responds: “Look, I know I’m just a good Christian girl from Mississippi County, Arkansas, who goes to church on Sundays and the movies on Saturdays, and prays to Jesus every night, and I ain’t travelled hardly anywhere, but, Alexandra...you’re not fucking with me, are you?” Also, the author simply tries to cram too many events into the novel, making it seem dramatically overextended and longer than it should be; for instance, a subplot that revolves around Noah’s business troubles is simply gratuitous. 

A thoughtful historical novel that’s often hampered by uninspired prose. 

Pub Date: July 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72426-044-4

Page Count: 458

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2018

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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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