An eloquent literary dissection of the divide between the United States and Mexico.

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THE JAGUAR'S CHILDREN

Vaillant’s debut fiction follows Hector Lazaro from Mexico’s Sierra Juárez to Oaxaca’s el Centro to an old tanker truck poised to sneak into El Norte, the promised land.

Because of his abuelo, an old man deeply rooted in Zapotec lands and culture, Hector carries an elemental connection to Oaxaca, a place somewhat Spanish but mostly Indio. But dreaming of El Norte, Hector’s father took his son into the U.S. for a few years, until la Migra found them. Home in Mexico, Hector earned his way into college, but his father kept insisting Hector head north, saying of Oaxaca, "[n]othing is changing in five hundred years." Now Hector’s on the border, but it’s only because he tried to help his childhood friend Cesar, ending up pursued by the federales because Cesar has a secret. Now the friends, and other desperate migrants, are trapped in an abandoned tanker truck, "smelling like the intestine of some animal, slowly digesting us." Cesar has a head injury, and Hector has a bit of water and Cesar’s cellphone with one American contact, AnniMac, but no signal. Vaillant’s tension-filled narrative has Hector relating his story into a sound file, all while meditating on "the distance between Hope and God and Death growing smaller until it is impossible to tell one from the others." As Hector tends to comatose Cesar, his deep and poignant story unfolds, covering his early life and his chance encounter with Cesar, whose research discovered clandestine information about KØrtez400, a GMO seed, which left Cesar pursued by murderous government bureaucrats. With superb minor characters like Don Serafín, "a rich and powerful chingón," and Hector’s abuelo, a man who had his own deep secret linked to 1930s work with an American archaeologist, Hector’s reflections on Oaxacan culture fascinate. Vaillant writes with power and emotion, affection and respect for the Zapotec people and lands, a fertile place, where "the corn made possible everything we do and are," now imperiled by international agribusiness. 

An eloquent literary dissection of the divide between the United States and Mexico.

Pub Date: Jan. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-31549-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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