A fierce, up-to-the-minute novel that makes you sad enough to grieve and angry enough to fight back.

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HOW BEAUTIFUL WE WERE

The author of the award-winning debut Behold the Dreamers (2016) follows up with a decades-spanning account of environmental calamity and its reverberating, often violent impact on a fictional African village.

The year 1980 finds Pexton, an American oil giant, in the midst of a yearslong project that by slow degrees is choking the life out of Kosawa, many of whose villagers have already perished “from the poison in the water and the poison in the air and the poisoned food growing from the land that lost its purity the day Pexton came drilling.” Whatever efforts the villagers make to seek relief or repairs have been met with relative indifference by the company and brutal reprisals from their nation’s dictatorship. But in October of that year, a Pexton delegation that had come to Kosawa to placate its desperate citizenry is taken captive by the village madman, Konga, whose reckless gesture is joined by others who believe their dire circumstances leave them no choice but to fight back. So begins a long, valiant, and costly struggle between this tiny farm village and the seemingly overpowering forces both within and outside its country poised to curtail or ignore its grievances. Mbue tells her story from several perspectives and displays deep and detailed empathy toward men and women of various ages, however they may feel about the bloodshed, imprisonment, thwarted hopes, and pervasive fear that dominate the village for the remaining years of the 20th century. At some point, the concerns of these and other villagers coalesce around Thula, an avid and intelligent 10-year-old girl when the Pexton spokesmen are kidnapped, who later goes to America to become educated about the wider world, though she vows to return to Kosawa someday. When she does, she is intent on setting in motion a plan to “bring down” the country’s despotic regime. Meanwhile, the land becomes less habitable, Pexton’s promises of reparations come to little, and Thula’s patience with legal remedies erodes further. Among the many virtues of Mbue’s novel is the way it uses an ecological nightmare to frame a vivid and stirring picture of human beings’ asserting their value to the world, whether the world cares about them or not.

A fierce, up-to-the-minute novel that makes you sad enough to grieve and angry enough to fight back.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13242-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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