An expert and gracefully executed follow-up to Trollope’s Palliser series.

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PHINEAS AT BAY

A political novel presents a detailed reinvigoration of a beloved Trollope-an character.

Phineas Finn is the eponymous hero of two novels in Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series, a political epic set in the 19th century. In the first book, the personable and dashing young Irishman heads to Victorian London to train as a lawyer and inveigles his way into high society. By the close of the second volume, Finn is weary after unsuccessfully standing for Parliament and enduring a grueling murder trial. Wirenius’ (First Amendment, First Principles, 2000) offering picks up the story in the 1890s, two decades after Trollope brought Finn’s tale to a close. Finn is appointed as counsel for Ifor Powlett-Jones, a Welsh miner charged with, among other things, criminal mischief, rioting, and assault after striking his foreman during a fracas following an explosion in a mine. The case becomes of further interest to the hero when he realizes that the mine is owned by William McScuttle, a significant figure in the Liberal Party, of which Finn himself is a member. In terms of his political standing, Finn appears to be disillusioned and drifting, looked on by members of his own party as an outsider. Wirenius captures a moment in a rapidly evolving political world as Finn becomes increasingly involved with the newly established Labour Party. The hero’s shifting sensibilities form only part of an intricately embroidered narrative that describes the social machinations—including the dangerous liaisons—that provide a backdrop to the political scene. At one point in the story, Finn even finds “himself dragged into a duel.” Trollope’s political novels were fueled by his skillful use of detailed characterization to create a realistic social world animated by a large cast of individually distinguishable personalities. In this intriguing tale, Wirenius displays similarly acute powers of observation. This is exemplified by his elegant description of the social standing of a prominent socialist: “The Right Honourable John Oswald Theobald Phineas Standish—Lord Chiltern, in Society—was in a position that would have excited the disapprobation of his relatives and friends, knew it, and, flushed with emotion, did not care.” The author adopts an appropriately clipped evaluative tenor—which was employed by Trollope—to strip the character to his essence in the space of a sentence. Such is Wirenius’ stylistic understanding of Trollope that it is entirely possible to finish reading the 19th-century Phineas Redux and begin the contemporary elaboration in smooth transition. This is in no small part due to Wirenius’ depth of research, which he discusses in his afterword. The author has a profound knowledge of how Trollope writes—from the way he borrows characters from other authors to his tendency to keep the “dates of his novels vague.” Readers not up to speed with the Palliser series would benefit from perusing Trollope, although Wirenius’ thoroughly plausible tale can be read as a stand-alone novel. Fans of Trollope will surely delight in reuniting with their old favorite Finn, even if it is to form their own conclusions on how he compares to the master’s original rendering.

An expert and gracefully executed follow-up to Trollope’s Palliser series.

Pub Date: July 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4991-7732-9

Page Count: 522

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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