A thrilling peek into a portal of history, dramatic and moving.



In Bastian’s historical novel, an orphaned boy flees war-torn Germany and finds work at a Wisconsin logging camp.

After Will Heinlein’s father dies fighting in WWI, his mother decides they have no future in Germany, and she sets her sights on the United States, where they have family. She dies in transit, however, and so Will arrives in New York in 1920 alone, unable to contact his uncle in Chicago. Fortunately, he meets Deiter Pzybylski, another lonesome traveler, a refugee from Poland who fought in the resistance against Russian occupation. Deiter takes Will under his wing with a casualness that belies the profound depth of his kindness, movingly depicted by author Bastian: “Hey, why not come with me? I’ve always wanted a little brother.” They travel to the frigid Wisconsin wilderness, where Deiter’s brother, Michael, waits for them. Will lands a job as a Chickadee, clearing icy, “serpentine trails” of impediments, including frozen “horse apples,” or turds, with a screwdriver. Once there, Will longs to graduate to the position of logger but has to contend with the perils of the work and environment, including Nyka, a dangerously violent logger. Bastian scrupulously researched historical records to create an impressively authentic portrait of the era. The pace of the plot is unrushed but never lags—Bastian draws the reader too deeply into Will’s cosmos for boredom to ever surface, and one can’t help but root for the protagonist. His prose, straightforward and unembellished but all the more powerful for its reserve, sets an affecting scene: “The more snow Nyka kicked away the clearer it became that it was a small body. I gasped when I realized I was staring into the hollow eye socket of a skull. The top of the skull was covered by a red knit hat.”

A thrilling peek into a portal of history, dramatic and moving.

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-934553-54-1

Page Count: 178

Publisher: Bower House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2020

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

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What happens when a midlist author steals a manuscript and publishes it as her own?

June Hayward and Athena Liu went to Yale together, moved to D.C. after graduation, and are both writers, but the similarities end there. While June has had little success since publication and is struggling to write her second novel, Athena has become a darling of the publishing industry, much to June’s frustration. When Athena suddenly dies, June, almost accidentally, walks off with her latest manuscript, a novel about the World War I Chinese Labour Corps. June edits the novel and passes it off as her own, and no one seems the wiser, but once the novel becomes a smash success, cracks begin to form. When June faces social media accusations and staggering writer’s block, she can’t shake the feeling that someone knows the truth about what she’s done. This satirical take on racism and success in the publishing industry at times veers into the realm of the unbelievable, but, on the whole, witnessing June’s constant casual racism and flimsy justifications for her actions is somehow cathartic. Yes, publishing is like this; finally someone has written it out. At times, the novel feels so much like a social media feed that it’s impossible to stop reading—what new drama is waiting to unfold. and who will win out in the end? An incredibly meta novel, with commentary on everything from trade reviews to Twitter, the ultimate message is clear from the start, which can lead to a lack of nuance. Kuang, however, does manage to leave some questions unanswered: fodder, perhaps, for a new tweetstorm.

A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

Pub Date: May 16, 2023

ISBN: 9780063250833

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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