If this isn’t the Great American Novel, it's a mighty attempt at achieving one.

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THE LOVE SONGS OF W.E.B. DU BOIS

A sprawling, ambitious debut novel that is as impassioned in promoting Black women’s autonomy as it is insistent on acknowledging our common humanity.

Ailey Pearl Garfield, the protagonist of this epochal saga, is a compelling mélange of intellectual curiosity, scathing observation, and volatile emotion. Though her grandmother may have preferred that she join the parade of medical doctors in their family, Ailey is destined to become a historian. Her journey toward that goal, fraught with heartache, upheaval, and conflict from her childhood through adolescence and collegiate years, is interwoven with the results of her inquiry into her family history. That history is deeply rooted in the Georgia town of Chicasetta, where Ailey’s Black ancestors were enslaved and exploited by a “White Man with Strange Eyes” named Samuel Pinchard, who not only brutalized and demeaned his slaves, but also haphazardly procreated with them over the decades before the Civil War. The “songs” interspersed throughout the book, chronicling in vivid, sometimes-graphic detail the antebellum lives of Ailey’s forbears, are bridges linking Ailey’s own coming-of-age travails in what is referred to only as the City. Precocious, outspoken, and sensitive, Ailey often tests the patience of the grown-ups in her life, especially her parents, Geoff and Belle, whose own arduous passage to love and marriage through the 1950s and '60s is among the many subplots crowding this capacious, time-traversing narrative. The story always swerves back to Chicasetta, where Ailey spends her summers, and her encounters with friends and relations, the most notable of whom is her beloved Uncle Root, a retired professor at a historically Black college where he’d first made the acquaintance of the novel’s eponymous scholar/activist. In her first novel, Jeffers, a celebrated poet, manages the difficult task of blending the sweeping with the intimate, and, as in most big books, she risks stress-testing some of her own narrative threads. Still, the sturdiest of those threads can throb with haunting poignancy, as in the account of Ailey’s promising-but-troubled sister, Lydia, which can stand alone as a masterful deconstruction of addiction’s origins and outcomes.

If this isn’t the Great American Novel, it's a mighty attempt at achieving one.

Pub Date: Aug. 24, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-294-293-7

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS

An ambitious young Italian woman makes her way among the émigrés of 1930s and ’40s Hollywood.

Maria Lagana has come to Los Angeles after her father is sentenced to confino—internal exile—for his anti-fascist advocacy in Mussolini’s Italy. Living with her mother in the Italian American neighborhood of Lincoln Heights—also home to a trio of no-nonsense great-aunts forever dressed in black—Maria finds work as a typist at Mercury Pictures International, working in the office of studio head Artie Feldman, a fast-talking showman with a collection of toupées for every occasion. In time, the letters from her father stop, and Maria becomes an associate producer, Artie’s trusted right hand, as well as the secret lover of Eddie Lu, a Chinese American actor relegated to roles as Japanese villains. When a young Italian immigrant turns up at her door introducing himself as Vincent Cortese, Maria’s past—and the mystery of what happened to her father—crashes into her present. Like the author’s earlier novels, the award-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013) and The Tsar of Love and Techno (2015), this one builds a discrete world and shows how its denizens are shaped—often warped—by circumstance. But the Hollywood setting feels overfamiliar and the characters curiously uninvolving. While the prose frequently sings, there are also ripely overwritten passages: At a party, the “thunking heels of lindy-hopping couples dimpled the boozy air”; fireworks are described as a “molten asterisk in the heavens to which the body on the ground is a footnote.”

The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-451-49520-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

THE MANY DAUGHTERS OF AFONG MOY

Covering 250 years, Ford’s new novel traces the way states of consciousness involving extreme moments of pain or joy interconnect seven generations of Chinese women.

Embedded images—airplanes, ships, waves—and the occasional ghostly vision highlight how these women’s lives reverberate as the focus moves back and forth in time. In 1942 China, Faye Moy, a nurse in her 50s who’s working with American forces, feels an eerie connection to a dying young pilot in whose pocket she finds a newspaper photograph of herself as a teenager and a note in her own handwriting that says, “FIND ME.” Finding oneself and/or one’s soul mate becomes the throughline of the book. Faye’s great-grandmother Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman in America, dies in childbirth after a short career being exhibited as a curiosity in the 1830s. Faye’s mother, Lai King (Afong’s granddaughter), sails to Canton after her parents’ deaths in San Francisco’s Chinatown fire of 1892. Onboard ship she bonds with a young White boy, also an orphan, and nurses him when contagion strikes. When Faye is 14, she has an illegitimate daughter who is adopted and raised in England. Presumably that girl is Zoe Moy, who, in 1927, attends the famously progressive Summerhill School, where a disastrous social experiment in fascism destroys her relationship with a beloved poetry teacher. In 2014, Zoe’s emotionally fragile granddaughter, Greta, loses both her skyrocketing tech career and the love of her life at the hands of an evil capitalist. While several earlier Moys receive aid and guidance from Buddhist monks, Greta’s troubled poet daughter, Dorothy, turns to both Buddhism and radical scientific treatment to uncover and understand how past crises, emotional, physical, and spiritual, are destabilizing her current life in 2045. Expect long treatises on anamnesis, quantum biology, and reincarnation before traveling with Dorothy’s adult daughter in 2086.

Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-5821-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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