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FERDINAND, THE MAN WITH THE KIND HEART

Fans of Günter Grass will find Keun a kindred spirit in the meeting of the picaresque and the cynical.

Satirical novel of postwar Germany, written in 1950 by a writer little known outside her native country.

Ferdinand Timpe is a “returnee,” a Wehrmacht veteran who lives in a Cologne hovel. He doesn’t like the designation: “It sounds a bit like the name of a vacuum cleaner or something,” he grumbles. He wasn’t much of a soldier, he allows, though he keeps running into old comrades, such as a sergeant who saved his life but then bored him with “the stupidest and nastiest jokes I’ve ever heard in my life.” In a Germany divided in a Cold War world “ajangle with weaponry,” a shopkeeper opines that because the Americans won, they must really be Germans, since the Germans are supposed to win in any martial encounter. That’s just one example of the strange logic Ferdinand meets with, his neighbors filled with superstition, glad to spend freely on things occult while awaiting the world’s end; one of Ferdinand’s employers is a neighbor who “now has departments for podiatry, charms, talismans and scents, departments for magical cloth, for clairvoyance and crystallography and the interpretation of dreams, departments for color, astrology, chiromancy, and graphology.” Ferdinand would prefer to drink, smoke, and wander the streets dressed in a homemade jerkin, which his bohemian cousin Johanna says makes him “look like a hurdy-gurdy man’s monkey.” He lacks all ambition, evident when, in a case of mistaken identity, he’s commissioned to write an article for a new magazine, requiring him to think, fruitlessly, of a subject (“I was Hitler’s pest control guy” is one idea quickly discarded). His family, as we learn episode by episode leading up to a reunion, is just as confused, and so is everyone else. Keun, banned during the Nazi era and all but forgotten afterward, paints with a broad brush, but it’s a decidedly unusual and often quite funny picture of a defeated people about to dust themselves off and become an economic power.

Fans of Günter Grass will find Keun a kindred spirit in the meeting of the picaresque and the cynical.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-163542-035-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THE FAMILIAR

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

In 16th-century Madrid, a crypto-Jew with a talent for casting spells tries to steer clear of the Inquisition.

Luzia Cotado, a scullion and an orphan, has secrets to keep: “It was a game she and her mother had played, saying one thing and thinking another, the bits and pieces of Hebrew handed down like chipped plates.” Also handed down are “refranes”—proverbs—in “not quite Spanish, just as Luzia was not quite Spanish.” When Luzia sings the refranes, they take on power. “Aboltar cazal, aboltar mazal” (“A change of scene, a change of fortune”) can mend a torn gown or turn burnt bread into a perfect loaf; “Quien no risica, no rosica” (“Whoever doesn’t laugh, doesn’t bloom”) can summon a riot of foliage in the depths of winter. The Inquisition hangs over the story like Chekhov’s famous gun on the wall. When Luzia’s employer catches her using magic, the ambitions of both mistress and servant catapult her into fame and danger. A new, even more ambitious patron instructs his supernatural servant, Guillén Santángel, to train Luzia for a magical contest. Santángel, not Luzia, is the familiar of the title; he has been tricked into trading his freedom and luck to his master’s family in exchange for something he no longer craves but can’t give up. The novel comes up against an issue common in fantasy fiction: Why don’t the characters just use their magic to solve all their problems? Bardugo has clearly given it some thought, but her solutions aren’t quite convincing, especially toward the end of the book. These small faults would be harder to forgive if she weren’t such a beautiful writer. Part fairy tale, part political thriller, part romance, the novel unfolds like a winter tree bursting into unnatural bloom in response to one of Luzia’s refranes, as she and Santángel learn about power, trust, betrayal, and love.

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

Pub Date: April 9, 2024

ISBN: 9781250884251

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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