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THE CEMETERY OF UNTOLD STORIES

Buried stories find their way to the light in this finely crafted novel.

When a novelist decides to retire, she builds a cemetery for the stories she has never finished telling.

Alma Cruz has had a successful career as a novelist and professor. Upon retiring from academia, she vows she’s done with writing as well. She wants most of all to return from the U.S. to her family’s homeland, the Dominican Republic, and live quietly. But what to do with those boxes full of notes and manuscripts for the books she didn’t get around to writing? Alma buys a plot of land in a working-class neighborhood in the Dominican Republic. Before she builds a casita to live in, she builds a cemetery for the stories. She burns the boxes—except for two that won’t catch fire—and inters them all. One of the intact boxes holds notes for a book about Alma’s enigmatic father, Dr. Manuel Cruz; the other is research for a book about Bienvenida Inocencia Ricardo, the forgotten first wife of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, a real-life monster who has haunted much of Alvarez’s fiction. Alma hires a woman who lives nearby to guard and maintain the cemetery until she can move in. But Filomena will become indispensable, not just for her kindness and loyalty but because she can hear the stories Alma has buried. Filomena is illiterate, but when she sits in meditation at the books’ graves, their subjects begin to speak to her. The novel’s focus shifts away from Alma to the stories of her father and Bienvenida, and of Filomena herself. As those separate plots touch and interweave, a rich and moving saga of Dominican history emerges, embodied in the lives of irresistible characters. Alvarez returns to many of her familiar subjects: family and especially the relationships among sisters, immigrants’ experiences, the empowerment of women. Her gifts for glowing prose and powerful narrative are still strong.

Buried stories find their way to the light in this finely crafted novel.

Pub Date: April 2, 2024

ISBN: 9781643753843

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2024

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JAMES

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as told from the perspective of a more resourceful and contemplative Jim than the one you remember.

This isn’t the first novel to reimagine Twain’s 1885 masterpiece, but the audacious and prolific Everett dives into the very heart of Twain’s epochal odyssey, shifting the central viewpoint from that of the unschooled, often credulous, but basically good-hearted Huck to the more enigmatic and heroic Jim, the Black slave with whom the boy escapes via raft on the Mississippi River. As in the original, the threat of Jim’s being sold “down the river” and separated from his wife and daughter compels him to run away while figuring out what to do next. He's soon joined by Huck, who has faked his own death to get away from an abusive father, ramping up Jim’s panic. “Huck was supposedly murdered and I’d just run away,” Jim thinks. “Who did I think they would suspect of the heinous crime?” That Jim can, as he puts it, “[do] the math” on his predicament suggests how different Everett’s version is from Twain’s. First and foremost, there's the matter of the Black dialect Twain used to depict the speech of Jim and other Black characters—which, for many contemporary readers, hinders their enjoyment of his novel. In Everett’s telling, the dialect is a put-on, a manner of concealment, and a tactic for survival. “White folks expect us to sound a certain way and it can only help if we don’t disappoint them,” Jim explains. He also discloses that, in violation of custom and law, he learned to read the books in Judge Thatcher’s library, including Voltaire and John Locke, both of whom, in dreams and delirium, Jim finds himself debating about human rights and his own humanity. With and without Huck, Jim undergoes dangerous tribulations and hairbreadth escapes in an antebellum wilderness that’s much grimmer and bloodier than Twain’s. There’s also a revelation toward the end that, however stunning to devoted readers of the original, makes perfect sense.

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780385550369

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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