For a reader who knows nothing at all about John Brown, this is a satisfactory but not altogether inspiring place to start.

READ REVIEW

THE INSURRECTIONIST

A docudrama about the insurgent abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859).

With racial conflict once again occupying center stage in the national dialogue, the present day seems especially ripe for a fresh new biographical portrait of the anti-slavery agitator whose scorched-earth campaign in the late 1850s presaged and likely hastened the Civil War. Weaving historical record with his own imaginings of what Brown, his family, and others may have said 160 years ago, Karl, the author of a teen novel, The Toom County Mud Race (1992), chronicles Brown’s three-year war against slavery. He begins with the 1856 incident in which abolitionist Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner is beaten bloody in the Senate chamber by a South Carolina congressman, which serves as prelude to Brown’s battle that same year against pro-slavery forces trying to keep Kansas in their column. The book climaxes with the ill-fated 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, to initiate an armed slave uprising and concludes with Brown’s subsequent arrest, trial, and execution. Karl’s overall depiction of Brown is that of a ruminative, intensely religious family man whose conversation is all but overrun with references to the divine. (“Everything moves in sublime harmony in the government of God…Not so with us poor creatures.”) He is also shown to be remarkably composed in battle and quietly insistent in conversation with such eminences as his great ally Frederick Douglass, who warned him of trouble at Harpers Ferry. Such factors offer a needed corrective to past portraits of Brown tending to paint him as a wild-eyed and ruthless fanatic. The problem is that Karl bends so far backward toward straightforward characterization that he mutes, if not altogether loses, so much of what made Brown colorful and vivid. The result resembles nothing so much as a grown-up version of biographies written for teenagers in which fact and fiction uneasily coexist in a diorama of historical events where surfaces are easier to perceive than the substance behind them.

For a reader who knows nothing at all about John Brown, this is a satisfactory but not altogether inspiring place to start.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61373-633-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Award Finalist

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more