Kosinki’s is a sad tale; he was a gifted raconteur except on the page in his chosen language, a flaw all the more obvious...

JERZY

The rise and fall of novelist Jerzy Kosinski (1933-1991) emerges in an offbeat way through real and imagined figures in his life.

The narrative moves fitfully through Kosinski’s life in five chapters that almost reluctantly form a mosaic of the whole man. The long opening section, the most charming of the quintet, touches on the entire span and the main characters that will follow. But it’s dominated by Peter Sellers and narrated by the actor’s driver as they seek an audience with Stan Laurel, dally with Lord Snowden and Princess Margaret, and then, for six years, pursue Kosinski’s blessing to let Sellers play the character Chance in the movie version of Being There. Charyn (A Loaded Gun, 2016, etc.) gives a chapter to Stalin’s daughter, who in fact lived next door to Kosinski in Princeton, looks into his strange marriage to an alcoholic heiress (her late husband changed here to the fictional Petroleum Jelly King), and revels in a dominatrix calling herself Anna Karenina who helps Kosinski, a patron of sex clubs, find the ideal editor. For a time, Kosinski was a darling of New York society, famed for colorful tales of his boyhood in wartime Poland—a period covered in the last chapter—and a serious artist, winning the 1969 National Book Award for Steps. Then came the 1982 Village Voice article that exposed his poor English skills and total reliance on the rewriting of secret editors. Charyn refers to the problem often—often enough to raise the question of how much schadenfreude is operating here.

Kosinki’s is a sad tale; he was a gifted raconteur except on the page in his chosen language, a flaw all the more obvious when conveyed through Charyn’s resourceful imagination and always-colorful, punchy, provocative prose.

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-942658-14-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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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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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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