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

FERDINAND, THE MAN WITH THE KIND HEART

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. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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