A novel that offers insight into the renowned author and his native land.

RAISED FROM THE GROUND

An early, epic novel by the late Nobel Prize winner, for completists steeped in knowledge of the author’s work and his native Portugal.

Though this novel won the City of Lisbon Prize upon publication in 1980 and has since been praised as both seminal stylistically and deeply personal, this translation represents its first publication in English, more than three decades later. And even fans of the fables and parables of Saramago (Blindness, 1998, etc.) will likely find the novel a mixed bag, with flashes of brilliance offset by stretches of tedium, amid oblique references to Portuguese politics and culture that brief footnotes can barely illuminate. The novel encompasses three generations of the agrarian peasant Mau Tempo family, treated little better than cattle by the landowners who employ them. “These men and women were born to work, like good to average livestock,” writes the author, whose own family origins were similar. At times, the narrative slips into first-person from different characters, at other times, it offers the perspective of an ant, and yet other times, the distinction between the ant’s view and a human’s might be obliterated. Similarly, the authorial presence is very much in evidence throughout, with a droll tone, though the lack of any progress over the course of decades and generations seems tragic. “[W]e’re so used to laughter turning into tears or a howl of rage so loud it could be heard in heaven, not that there is any heaven,” he writes, of a conspiratorial exploitation that finds the church and government in league with each other, supporting the status quo, exercising power over the powerless. Even the natural order can’t provide solace, since “nature displays remarkable callousness when creating her various creatures.” As in the American naturalism of Frank Norris and Stephen Crane more than a century ago, the characters are but cogs in a big, cold machine, born to die but supplying their own replacements before they do.

A novel that offers insight into the renowned author and his native land.

Pub Date: Dec. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-15-101325-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Sept. 25, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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