Kertes’ voice is a lyrical one, and his work is frequently moving, but long passages seem to wash by without fully...



Two boys flee the 1956 Russian occupation of Budapest.

Robert and Attila (named for the Hun) Beck are brothers, ages 9.8 and 13.7, respectively, according to the ever precise Robert, who narrates this circuitous but fervent novel. Kertes (Gratitude, 2009), winner of the National Jewish Book Award, begins his newest work in his own native Budapest. It's 1956, and Russian soldiers have invaded the city to quash the Hungarian Revolution. With their family, the Beck brothers flee across the border, eventually landing in Paris. But their journey isn’t merely a geographical one. As they travel, Robert and Attila begin to uncover secrets about their Jewish family’s past. Those secrets revolve around a pair of mysterious figures: Raoul Wallenberg and Paul Beck. Here, Kertes is revisiting characters from his previous book, Gratitude, and perhaps for that reason, the material occasionally feels predigested. But Robert and Attila are a winning pair of guides. They are exposed to childbirth as well as to violence and death, experiences that are particularly dismaying for Robert, the wide-eyed younger brother. Meanwhile, Attila tries to make sense of things. Robert looks on as Attila grapples with skeins of tangled questions, which range in subject from the design of the human body to the meaning of God’s omniscience. He muses, “Did the Lord think up everything at once because he is omniscient? I guess I’m saying, how does that work—being omniscient, I mean? Did he start out, as a baby God, being somewhat omniscient? Did he start out as God of the Milky Way, only later to become God of the whole universe?” But when Attila and Robert ask their grandmother about the family’s wartime experiences, the boys are told: “News like that can wait.” There is, it seems, a limit to knowledge. Oddly, it is Attila’s flights of questions, and the final unveiling of those wartime secrets, that form the most vivid parts of this novel. On the other hand, the present day—1956, when Russian soldiers have beset Budapest—carries the watery tint of unreality.

Kertes’ voice is a lyrical one, and his work is frequently moving, but long passages seem to wash by without fully convincing the reader they’ve actually happened.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-30811-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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


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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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.


When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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