A rarity: a love story with a core of intelligence and insight.


Is it no longer possible for poetry to carry the soul of nations? That’s the question raised by this tale of a love affair between a young American student and an exiled Soviet poet.

In the late 1990s, Kit Malone heads to St. Petersburg to meet with friends of Russian poet Innokenti Falin, whom she knew in the ’60s shortly after he was exiled and took up a teaching position in the US. She hopes to learn what became of her old flame, but it turns out the scholars and poets she meets are equally curious about what Falin was doing stateside before his death. Malone tells them her story: flashback to Kit as college student, interested in poetry, taking a course from the closely watched professor, once one of Russia’s lost children. It’s soon clear that the two are drawn to each other’s history of sadness and loss, and the private lessons in poetry turn into mutual translation with all the earmarks of love and passion. It can only last so long, however; Falin is under the intelligence microscope, and that scrutiny only intensifies when the Cuban Missile Crisis heats up. Before long, Malone finds a creepy Fed in Falin’s house, is asked to keep tabs on her lover, and learns that not all her friends are friendly. When it becomes clear that the world’s survival is on the line, Falin suggests that by mysteriously disappearing he may be able to affect the outcome. Crowley’s lovely, effortless writing (Daemonomania, 2000, etc.) and his accurate, earnest portraits of Russians make this a sad love story with an important piece of rhetoric at its heart. Did poetry survive the ’60s? Does mutual assured destruction render verse obsolete? Falin, our hero bard, disappears into the netherworld he’d come from, but the world survives.

A rarity: a love story with a core of intelligence and insight.

Pub Date: March 10, 2002

ISBN: 0-380-97862-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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