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Echoes of Kafka, Koestler, Camus and Orwell, in a master novelist’s blackest and most bracing report yet from Communist...

Recent Balkan history is reshaped with mordant wit in this wry 2003 parable—the 11th novel in English translation from the renowned Albanian author (The Pyramid, 1996, etc.).

Kadare’s own mixed fortunes include receiving both the (lucrative and prestigious) first Man Booker International Literary Prize in 2005 and brickbats hurled by critics who accuse him of a suspiciously cozy relationship with Albania’s late, notorious Communist dictator Enver Hoxha. Those critics should back off in light of this novel’s mischievous use of the unexplained death of Hoxha critic Mehmet Shehu, the former Party loyalist who either shot himself or was murdered—in this novel, on the evening prior to his “forgiveness” for past political errors by Hoxha (here identified as the Guide), whom he was to succeed in office. Following a brief tongue-in-cheek history of Alabania’s perpetual political instability, Kadare’s omniscient narrator describes the investigation into the Successor’s death, the reactions of his bereaved family (notably the Successor’s randy daughter, forbidden to marry a fiancé whose family had ties to the former monarchy), the architect who could confirm whether a secret passageway in the Successor’s home afforded a murderer safe passage and the minister of the interior simultaneously blessed and cursed by having been designated the Successor’s replacement. Kadare skillfully blends the thuggery of power politics with the willed naïveté of a populace still gripped as much by folklore and superstition as by the exigencies of a modern society. And he builds to a splendid crescendo of insanity, focusing climactic attention on the Guide’s brutal paranoia (symbolized by his increasing blindness), the architect’s guilty “confession” (presumably for having designed a lavish “private dwelling in a country where collective property is the rule”) and the Successor’s cautiously worded concluding statement—delivered from the afterlife.

Echoes of Kafka, Koestler, Camus and Orwell, in a master novelist’s blackest and most bracing report yet from Communist Cloud-Cuckoo-Land.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2005

ISBN: 1-55970-773-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2005

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Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Hunter’s debut novel tracks the experiences of her family members during the Holocaust.

Sol and Nechuma Kurc, wealthy, cultured Jews in Radom, Poland, are successful shop owners; they and their grown children live a comfortable lifestyle. But that lifestyle is no protection against the onslaught of the Holocaust, which eventually scatters the members of the Kurc family among several continents. Genek, the oldest son, is exiled with his wife to a Siberian gulag. Halina, youngest of all the children, works to protect her family alongside her resistance-fighter husband. Addy, middle child, a composer and engineer before the war breaks out, leaves Europe on one of the last passenger ships, ending up thousands of miles away. Then, too, there are Mila and Felicia, Jakob and Bella, each with their own share of struggles—pain endured, horrors witnessed. Hunter conducted extensive research after learning that her grandfather (Addy in the book) survived the Holocaust. The research shows: her novel is thorough and precise in its details. It’s less precise in its language, however, which frequently relies on cliché. “You’ll get only one shot at this,” Halina thinks, enacting a plan to save her husband. “Don’t botch it.” Later, Genek, confronting a routine bit of paperwork, must decide whether or not to hide his Jewishness. “That form is a deal breaker,” he tells himself. “It’s life and death.” And: “They are low, it seems, on good fortune. And something tells him they’ll need it.” Worse than these stale phrases, though, are the moments when Hunter’s writing is entirely inadequate for the subject matter at hand. Genek, describing the gulag, calls the nearest town “a total shitscape.” This is a low point for Hunter’s writing; elsewhere in the novel, it’s stronger. Still, the characters remain flat and unknowable, while the novel itself is predictable. At this point, more than half a century’s worth of fiction and film has been inspired by the Holocaust—a weighty and imposing tradition. Hunter, it seems, hasn’t been able to break free from her dependence on it.

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56308-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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