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Agualusa’s novel, which has roots in the magical realist tradition, is a sui generis work, refreshingly different, owing its...

Black is white and human is animal; appearances are deceiving in this subtle, beguiling story of shifting identities, the first U.S. publication for the Angolan author.

The narrator is a gecko who was an ancient human before becoming trapped in a lizard’s body. In Luanda, Angola’s capital, he shares the home of Félix Ventura, an albino who would be black if he had more melanin. Ventura, an animist, regards the gecko as his best friend and talks to him frequently; they even appear in each other’s dreams. The two form the novel’s central relationship. The albino was abandoned on the doorstep as a baby, and raised by the sole inhabitant, a mulatto secondhand book dealer who hightailed it to Lisbon after Angola’s independence. In this world of paradoxes, it’s fitting that the foundling should become a genealogist, creating family trees and impressive pasts for insecure arrivistes. His latest client is a middle-aged white man, a war photographer. Ventura gives him a name (José Buchmann) and a mother who was an American artist, whereupon Buchmann becomes intent on tracking her down. A parallel story line has Ventura courting a beautiful black woman, Ângela Lúcia. The mood is gentle and inward-looking, but can the city be kept at bay? For this is Luanda, a place still haunted by a ruinous civil war, where the personal is entwined with the political. Buchmann brings back the terror. He has been photographing a crazy old homeless man, his adversary, it turns out, from the revolutionary past, which also spawned Ângela. The three confront each other in a violent denouement in Ventura’s home, as the albino looks on horrified. Maybe the narrator’s mother was right to advise her son: “Given a choice between life and books…you must choose books!”

Agualusa’s novel, which has roots in the magical realist tradition, is a sui generis work, refreshingly different, owing its primary allegiance to a specific time and place.

Pub Date: June 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4165-7351-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

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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