Flirts dangerously with unreadability.

THE GIRL WITH THE LEICA

A charismatic martyr of the Spanish Civil War lives on in the memories of three erstwhile pals who have an axe to grind.

In 2018, Janeczek won Italy’s prestigious annual Strega prize, the first woman to have done so in 15 years. Gerda Pohorylle, working pseudonymously as Gerda Taro, was also a first in the 1930s, a female photojournalist on the front lines as leftist troops waged their ultimately unsuccessful battle against the Franco coup. A German Jew who fled Leipzig for Paris, Gerda and her 20-something friends enjoy a brief idyll of cafe society. A typist, she becomes obsessed with photography and heads for Spain with her mentor and lover, André Friedmann, a Hungarian refugee, who takes on the name Robert Capa. (Together they concocted both aliases.) The two separate to cover the rebellion, intending to reunite, but shortly before her 27th birthday, Gerda is killed in a collision with a tank. Janeczek, as an epilogue confirms, hews closely to the known facts about her characters, all real people. The pre–World War II upheaval is very much in the background. Instead we have mostly retrospective musings, half-realized scenes of young love and its attendant angst as recounted by Gerda’s surviving contemporaries, all, like her, German exiles. Dr. Willy Chardack lives in Buffalo, New York, where his routine of the New York Times and pastries is disrupted by a phone call from an old friend that prompts him to ruefully recall his mostly unrequited crush on Gerda. Ruth Cerf, Gerda’s best girlfriend, seems to view Gerda mainly as a rival for male attention. Georg Kuritzkes, a neurologist in Italy, still rankles over being displaced by Capa as Gerda’s love interest. For long stretches, little happens. Gerda is seen only through a glass darkened by resentment. But the chief hurdle for readers of English is the prose. Surprisingly, Goldstein's translation fails to unknot frequent syntactic snarls, in contrast to her limpid renderings of Elena Ferrante’s work. The text is replete with head-scratcher sentences like this: “The ladies of high society were already competing to see who could gorge Hitler, in the face of the workers reduced to poverty by their consorts.”

Flirts dangerously with unreadability.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-60945-547-7

Page Count: 297

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 13

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    finalist

  • New York Times Bestseller

A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

more