IN THE SHADOW OF BABYLON

An epoch-spanning thriller that’s part academic mystery and part historical fantasy.

This time-traversing story opens in 11,000 B.C. with a first-person tale rendered in high archaic fashion but with clear psychological self-awareness. Ayuba, a clansman shepherd from a time just outside of recorded history, relates the terrible destruction of his family and his herd. Ayuba’s story continues throughout, but it is the discovery of this man’s poem (the oldest writing in the world) that incites the events in 2004. Flashing forward 13,000 years to an Iraqi academic’s bedroom, the novel’s modern thriller-style plot begins. Dr. Elman Darshi is trying to convince his wife that Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist agents are not in fact coming for them in the night. The sudden jump in time and tone is remarkably compelling rather than jarring and gives this novel its unique literary fascination. Ancient tablets containing the Song of Ayuba lead to information that is not only threatening to Hussein’s small empire of megalomania, but to established history and cultural orthodoxy. After Darshi is eliminated for his years of research and toil, his daughter, Alex, picks up the torch and reads the translation to the world on satellite television. The song itself is yet another layer in the literary quality of the novel and works as the novel’s philosophical centerpiece. The poem is lyrical, mystical and shockingly secular—this in particular causes a great deal of controversy once the poem is rendered for the Arabic-speaking world. Ayuba’s narrative is essentially a fantastic hero story. After the dissolution of his people, he travels into the Beyond relating his experiences and the strange encounters of a world lost to history. Schwartz deftly weaves the romantic experiences of a pre-historical shepherd into an extended homily that punctuates the trials of the Middle East as the contemporary narrative plunges along in the best page-turner fashion. Not only linked well rhetorically, the prose here is something to behold and is evocative without sacrificing concision, an absolute demand of the thriller genre. Many readers will be convinced that a literary discovery of this magnitude really might change the course of contemporary politics, so confident and convincing is the vision of the novel. A wonderfully written, provocative novel that utilizes two distinct genres to promote progressive cultural messages.

 

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2011

ISBN: 978-1461107132

Page Count: 326

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2012

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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