Regrettably, mountains of unnecessary detail and disorganization obscure what might have been an intriguing saga.

READ REVIEW

THE MOUNTAIN OF LIGHT

Sundaresan (The Shadow Princess, 2010, etc.), author of previous novels about India, produces a 19th-century saga about British colonialism, Indian nationalism, and the transfer of a symbol of power from the hands of one monarch to the next.

Deposed Afghani ruler Shah Shuja has some pretty magnificent arm candy: the 186-carat Kohinoor diamond, currently the centerpiece of an armlet entrusted to his beautiful wife, Wafa Begam (who’s cleverly hidden it). The husband and wife spend their days languishing in lush Shalimar Gardens as unwilling guests of the ruler of Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who wants the diamond. Following the couple’s failed escape attempt, the maharajah withholds food, and Shuja caves and hands over the jewel. It turns out Shuja’s a pretty weak person who, with British and the maharajah’s help, manages to retake his throne—but soon is deposed again. Now that Ranjit Singh possesses this treasure, he turns over the armlet to his much younger, favorite wife, Maharani Jindan Kaur, the daughter of a water seller. She provides Singh with a baby boy, Dalip Singh, whom she’s determined to put on the throne after his father dies. Over the years, England’s domination of the region strengthens, and many more soldiers and civil servants are stationed there. The British East India Company inventories the treasuries of the local rulers and claims ownership of their riches for England. Dalip, under the guardianship of an English couple, finds himself being feted by Queen Victoria’s court, but he’s also snubbed for his ethnic origins, an affront that lasts a lifetime. Through Shuja, Ranjit Singh and Dalip, Sundaresan constructs engrossing and vivid worlds, but the author’s storytelling technique is disorganized and overly complicated, as if she’s determined to cram every scrap of data she’s uncovered in her extensive research into the story. The inclusion of numerous characters—many inconsequential—is confusing and necessitates frequent references to a list of primary and secondary characters placed at the beginning of the book. At one puzzling point, the narrative imitates an Agatha Christie mystery replete with a theft, a long list of suspects and a death, which adds little value to the book.

Regrettably, mountains of unnecessary detail and disorganization obscure what might have been an intriguing saga.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4351-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Washington Square/Pocket

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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