MESHUGAN

The late Nobelist's third posthumously published novel (after Scum and The Certificate) was serialized (1981-83) in Yiddish in the Forward newspaper and was titled Lost Souls. But "meshuga" (crazy) is the world where lies were bits of truth, where "no sooner did one free oneself of a neurosis, then another rushed in to take its place," and where God — the novelist? — maybe has a meaning in the works. Singer's following will feel at home: those uptown Broadway cafeterias of the 50's, a sub-shtetl of recent immigrants, nursing coffee and gossip, Manhattan in freezing cold or blazing heat, milling pigeons, the eerie vacancy of skyscrapers. And throughout there is the crazy choreography of uprooted random survivors of the Holocaust, drifting, as here, into odd combinations; and always wry cosmic questions nag: "What does God want? There has to be something He wants." Narrator Aaron Greidinger, writer and radio "advisor" to a Yiddish-speaking following, is stunned to see in large person Max, once patron of the arts in Warsaw, in roaring top form as "the well-known glutton, guzzler, womanizer." Max sweeps Aaron off to meet his 27-year-old lover, Miriam, another camp survivor. The trio achieves a psychic/sexual entity: Max, the elderly "husband, father, lover," considers lovers Aaron and Miriam his children. Aaron, bemused, somewhat horrified, sees "entanglements without exit": Stanley, Miriam's flabby husband, barges in, points a gun (there is a question about God); lovers old and new send signals; Miriam's wartime sex is more serious — and there's worse to come. At the last, after a trip to Israel, and a terrible discovery, Aaron weighs love and obligation in the shadow of a world's "slaughterhouse." Solid representative Singer with speculations light and dark, comic and searing. Manna for his following, who know that wherever Singer touched pen to paper there sprang up a village — of ghosts, of survivors, of all of us.

Pub Date: April 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-374-20847-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1994

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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