A bold and humorous, if uneven, sendup of Scottish culture.

A PARCEL OF ROGUES

Two shiftless Scots in Glasgow get drawn into an insurrection agitating for independence from England in this madcap satire.

Gourlay Baines leads a meandering life—avoiding work and responsibility, engaging in petty theft and grift, and evading the landlord’s agent, O’Leary, always hunting for his perpetually late rent. Lucky for Gourlay, he’s a man of modest ambitions and counts himself rich when he has a pocket full of change. His “old crony” McMinn one day presents him with a business opportunity. Big Red, a giant of a man—“close to seven feet tall and his red hair, eyebrows and beard were so red that his massive head seemed to be on fire”—is paying cash for help with digging, the details closely guarded. As it turns out, Big Red is preparing a tunnel to a bank vault, a criminal gambit both Gourlay and McMinn participate in reluctantly. When that caper turns out poorly, they’re roped into a planned battle between Big Red and his nemesis, Sanny Rutherford. Scores of men turn out, but before a chaotic fight ensues, the two massed groups bond over their common Scottish heritage. The imbroglio gives Big Red an idea: “We need a common focus, a national focus, and by God!…By God! We have it already in the English! We’re a divided nation—Glasgow/Edinburgh, Catholic/Protestant, Highlander/Lowlander, myself and Sanny even....Linguistically-speaking, a farmer in Aberdeenshire likely has more in common with a Dutchman than a Sassenach....But is there a better uniting force than a common enemy?”

Sleigh farcically chronicles the formation of a group of freedom fighters, the National Army for the Liberation of Scotland, or “N.A.I.L.S.,” a comically incapable ragtag bunch. Gourlay and McMinn seem swept into Big Red’s ambition as if by a massive wave, reluctant but also unwilling to assert themselves. This lack of focused agency, the author cheekily implies, characterizes the desultory Scottish spirit, an ethos more likely to complain of oppression than to competently wage war against it. Gourlay isn’t so sure simply being Scottish means all that much to Scots and therefore doubts it as a significant identity, let alone a call to insurgent action: “Near everybody Ah ken is Scottish, but Ah’ve nae idea to what extent they’re really aware of their national identity, or whether they give a damn about that.” The group’s exploits are the stuff of vaudevillian comedy, the bumbling errors of the perennially distracted. Sleigh’s wit can cut to the quick, but is also deeply silly, and that lightsome but feverish tenor is very hard to keep fresh for the length of a novel, even one on the short side. Furthermore, the dialogue is presented in the thick argot of colloquial Scottish speech, and for the uninitiated, it can be a tedious slough: “Onywey, he coudna get intae ma breeks, so he took a sheet an’ happit himsel’ up in it....Bluidy daft if you ask me.” This is a funny book, one brimming with deliciously irreverent insights. But that’s not quite enough to compensate for the laborious translation it requires.

A bold and humorous, if uneven, sendup of Scottish culture.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-60489-297-0

Page Count: 278

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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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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