A vivid and moving novel about heritage, history, and the family bonds that transcend culture.


An absorbing portrait of life in contemporary Afghanistan that is simultaneously raucous and heart-rending, told from a perspective we rarely hear: that of a young émigré returning home to his war-torn country.

In his debut novel, Kochai tells the story of Marwand, a 12-year-old whose family has returned to their home province of Logar, just south of American-occupied Kabul, at the height of the war on terror. Marwand hasn't been to his ancestral home since he was 6; he's an American boy who barely knows life in Logar. Worse, the landscape feels like anything but home: American bases and checkpoints pockmark the land as the central government in Kabul tries to tamp down a raging insurgency, and Taliban fighters roam Logar with impunity. Holed up in his mother's family compound and looking for some comfort, Marwand tries to pet the family dog, Budabash—only to find the wolflike animal less agreeable than the dogs he's used to in America. Budabash bites off a bit of his finger and runs away. Convinced that Budabash is a demon in disguise, Marwand sets out with a band of cousins to track the dog down and bring him back home. But that plot is really just an excuse for an extravagant outpouring of storytelling: Marwand encounters an enormous cast of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, all of whom have stories to tell about their family and the bloody history of the land they call home. The result is a novel that reads like a thrilling collision of Huckleberry Finn, Boccacio's The Decameron, and One Thousand and One Nights. As it careens between tragic stories of Afghanistan's history of perpetual warfare and magical realist tales of djinn, the novel threatens to become unwieldy at times, but Marwand is the thread that holds it together. Endowed with a voice that is at once street-smart and innocent, the boy speaks a language that is distinctly Afghan but retains the marks of his life as an American preteen. When his little brother, Gwora, demands to follow Marwand and his cousins on their quest to find Budabash, Marwand beats him into submission: "After the whupping, I left him in the orchard all crumpled up," he boasts, "...while me and the rest of the fellahs headed out onto the roads of Logar to search all day long for the wolf-dog who, just a few weeks ago, had bitten the tip off my index finger." Marwand's is the voice of an American kid who speaks a bit of Pakhto and whose favorite word happens to be "Wallah!" When Marwand and his cousins hide on top of a roof of the compound to eavesdrop on a conversation or don burqas so they can sneak into a bride's wedding party in search of a cousin's betrothed, the book seems like the very echo of Huckleberry Finn. With beautiful prose that encompasses the brutality of life in Afghanistan without overshadowing the warmth of family, culture, and storytelling, Kochai delivers a gorgeous and kaleidoscopic portrait of a land we're used to seeing through a single, insufficient lens: the war on terror.

A vivid and moving novel about heritage, history, and the family bonds that transcend culture.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-55919-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.


Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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