Philosophical and earthy, tragic and funny, honest, raw, superb: Sales makes Hemingway seem thin, even anemic, in...

READ REVIEW

UNCERTAIN GLORY

Catalan writer Sales tells a multilayered story of loves, faith, friendships, and ideals tested by the Spanish Civil War in this novel banned by Franco's censors, then published in 1956 after the author's return from exile.

Former school friends Lt. Lluís Ruscalleda and Juli Soleràs are reunited in a republican brigade on the Aragon front, fighting "for hygiene and culture" against the fascist forces. In a sacked monastery, Lluís salvages books and searches for a missing certificate for the mysterious lady of the castle. When tins of condensed milk go missing, Soleràs brags of stealing "from soldiers on the front line to give to whores in the rearguard." Sales draws on his own experience in a similar brigade, fighting for Catalan independence; he brings a new perspective to the civil war and writes with authority about "half-burnt bread" and "the sad, obscene songs the recruits sang." But it is the compelling depth of the varied, complex, human characters that shows his true mastery. Lluís wonders, "Which part of us must remain unchangeable? Are we so sure it's more valuable than the part that leaves us at every moment? Or are we entirely ghostlike, clouds whose single hope is to live a moment of glory, one solitary moment, and then vanish?" In Barcelona, Trini Milmany, a geologist and mother of Lluís' son, considers "what the success of these winners represents in terms of geology—less perhaps than that of a mosquito from the Carboniferous Age." The glorious possibility of a Catalan republic devolves into what one disillusioned anarchist calls this "sinister revolutionary carnival," adding, "Our ideals were so beautiful...when nobody had tried to put them into practice!" Amid the horror, the thirst for glory persists: "We have acted like men and we've acted like wild beasts...how can anyone now ever become a notary?" There are moments of transcendent beauty: a castle imagined as "a frigate of stone, people and animals all on board, all sailing together in this huge ship that seems still but is moving across the ocean of time"; a character walking through a town's snow-covered ruins as if "wading through the remnants of a shipwreck." And of humor: "The worst side to wars is the fact they're turned into novels," Soleràs complains. "Foreigners will turn this huge mess into stirring stories of bullfighters and gypsies."

Philosophical and earthy, tragic and funny, honest, raw, superb: Sales makes Hemingway seem thin, even anemic, in comparison. This book is a rich and highly recommended feast.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-68137-180-1

Page Count: 464

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

more