While Liv’s more pedestrian story is less romantic than Sophie’s and far less nuanced, Moyes is a born storyteller who makes...

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THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND

The newest novel by Moyes (Me Before You, 2012, etc.) shares its title with a fictional painting that serves as catalyst in linking two love stories, one set in occupied France during World War I, the other in 21st-century London.

In a French village in 1916, Sophie is helping the family while her husband, Édouard, an artist who studied with Matisse, is off fighting. Sophie’s pluck in standing up to the new German kommandant in the village draws his interest. An art lover, he also notices Édouard's portrait of Sophie, which captures her essence (and the kommandant's adoration). Arranging to dine regularly at Sophie’s inn with his men, he begins a cat-and-mouse courtship. She resists. But learning that Édouard is being held in a particularly harsh “reprisal” camp, she must decide what she will sacrifice for Édouard’s freedom. The rich portrayals of Sophie, her family and neighbors hauntingly capture wartime’s gray morality. Cut to 2006 and a different moral puzzle. Thirty-two-year-old widow Liv has been struggling financially and emotionally since her husband David’s sudden death. She meets Paul in a bar after her purse is stolen. The divorced father is the first man she’s been drawn to since she was widowed. They spend a glorious night together, but after noticing Édouard's portrait of Sophie on Liv’s wall, he rushes away with no explanation. In fact, Paul is as smitten as Liv, but his career is finding and returning stolen art to the rightful owners. Usually the artwork was confiscated by Germans during World War II, not WWI, but Édouard's descendants recently hired him to find this very painting. Liv is not about to part with it; David bought it on their honeymoon because the portrait reminded him of Liv. In love, Liv and Paul soon find themselves on opposite sides of a legal battle.

While Liv’s more pedestrian story is less romantic than Sophie’s and far less nuanced, Moyes is a born storyteller who makes it impossible not to care about her heroines.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-670-02661-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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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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