Somewhere! (Hunaak!)

Abbas’ (HWJN, 2013) latest novel mixes sci-fi, fantasy and pure adolescent adventure.
When Husam wakes up, he can’t even remember his own name. Even stranger, he’s in a place he’s never seen before—a huge, open room under one of several crystal-clear domes. And when he looks at himself, he realizes he’s about 20 centimeters taller, with the body of a fitness junkie instead of his usual couch potato physique and forgettable looks. Then the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen walks into the room and offers to show him around this strange place. Eventually introducing herself as Malak, she says she can only answer yes or no to his questions; if she were to simply explain where he is and what has happened to him, he could never go back to his own life. Husam insists that he has to return home to take care of his mother and sister, but the amazing world in which he finds himself—and the stunning Malak—is hard to resist. Then, after he has left the room, a stranger tries to kill him by crashing into Husam’s Jet Ski, and later, the mysterious Mr. Khaled tries to poison him. As his near-death experiences become more and more intense, Husam realizes that if he doesn’t figure things out quickly, he may never get the chance. Despite Husam’s overnight transformation—from a short, overweight wimp into a tall, fit action hero who can eat all he wants and have all the expensive toys he longed for—he doesn’t grow or change in a meaningful way. He was rather shallow and rudderless in the old world, and in the new world, though his supercharged brain makes it easy for him to do anything—outplaying Beethoven or out-fighting Bruce Lee, for example—he doesn’t develop the levels of discipline and responsibility needed to manage those skills wisely. Abbas seems to be trying to send a profound message through Husam’s story, but whatever that message is, it’s lost in a blur of heroics and fantasy—not to mention typos and muddled syntax: “I could not tell how much time I spent absorbed into my master piece, it was as if I was in a coma that I awakened from after I was done.”

A blur of self-indulgence and high-tech battles obscures a deeper message.

Pub Date: June 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-9948205838

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Yatakhayaloon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2014

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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