A short tale that will satisfy a reader’s craving for Victorian pomp and family intrigue.

THE GIRL FROM COLOMBIA

In Rodriguez’s historical novel, a young man is captivated by a mysterious young woman living on his father’s estate.

In Sea Girt, New Jersey in 1890, Joseph Johnson arrives from London to see the property that his wealthy industrialist father, Samuel, has developed on the American coast. Riding through the dunes, the 19-year-old comes across a two-room cabin that houses his father’s 18-year-old adopted daughter, Isabel. Before this visit, Joseph knew nothing about the young woman, whom his father apparently saved from drowning off the coast of Colombia when she was small. To be fair, Joseph knows almost nothing about Samuel, either, as the man left him back in England to be raised by a nurse; his mother “disappeared.” Samuel now expects Joseph to marry Elizabeth Edwards, the beautiful daughter of a local doctor. Joseph likes Elizabeth, but he can’t get his mind off the mysterious Isabel, who everyone claims has tuberculosis. Nor does he know that Isabel almost succeeded in poisoning Samuel to death when she was younger. Isabel is anything but welcoming, but as she and Joseph get to know each other, long-held secrets threaten to come to light. Rodriguez’s prose is modern in style while still effectively evoking the particularly Victorian tension of words unsaid and emotions repressed: “His father’s decision to keep the secret places of his past dark didn’t help, of course. Joseph bordered on obsession about who the man was, without new thoughts about this girl—holding the memories just out of his son’s reach was an effective form of torture.” This is a short novel at less than 160 pages, and the plot moves quickly across that span. Its milieu—coastal New Jersey and, in flashbacks, Cartagena, Colombia—feels familiar without drifting too far into historical clichés. By the end, readers may not feel particularly moved or enlightened, but the story of Joseph, Samuel, and Isabel is, on the whole, a pleasant way to pass an afternoon.

A short tale that will satisfy a reader’s craving for Victorian pomp and family intrigue.

Pub Date: March 12, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 139

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2020

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The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS

An ambitious young Italian woman makes her way among the émigrés of 1930s and ’40s Hollywood.

Maria Lagana has come to Los Angeles after her father is sentenced to confino—internal exile—for his anti-fascist advocacy in Mussolini’s Italy. Living with her mother in the Italian American neighborhood of Lincoln Heights—also home to a trio of no-nonsense great-aunts forever dressed in black—Maria finds work as a typist at Mercury Pictures International, working in the office of studio head Artie Feldman, a fast-talking showman with a collection of toupées for every occasion. In time, the letters from her father stop, and Maria becomes an associate producer, Artie’s trusted right hand, as well as the secret lover of Eddie Lu, a Chinese American actor relegated to roles as Japanese villains. When a young Italian immigrant turns up at her door introducing himself as Vincent Cortese, Maria’s past—and the mystery of what happened to her father—crashes into her present. Like the author’s earlier novels, the award-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013) and The Tsar of Love and Techno (2015), this one builds a discrete world and shows how its denizens are shaped—often warped—by circumstance. But the Hollywood setting feels overfamiliar and the characters curiously uninvolving. While the prose frequently sings, there are also ripely overwritten passages: At a party, the “thunking heels of lindy-hopping couples dimpled the boozy air”; fireworks are described as a “molten asterisk in the heavens to which the body on the ground is a footnote.”

The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-451-49520-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

THE MANY DAUGHTERS OF AFONG MOY

Covering 250 years, Ford’s new novel traces the way states of consciousness involving extreme moments of pain or joy interconnect seven generations of Chinese women.

Embedded images—airplanes, ships, waves—and the occasional ghostly vision highlight how these women’s lives reverberate as the focus moves back and forth in time. In 1942 China, Faye Moy, a nurse in her 50s who’s working with American forces, feels an eerie connection to a dying young pilot in whose pocket she finds a newspaper photograph of herself as a teenager and a note in her own handwriting that says, “FIND ME.” Finding oneself and/or one’s soul mate becomes the throughline of the book. Faye’s great-grandmother Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman in America, dies in childbirth after a short career being exhibited as a curiosity in the 1830s. Faye’s mother, Lai King (Afong’s granddaughter), sails to Canton after her parents’ deaths in San Francisco’s Chinatown fire of 1892. Onboard ship she bonds with a young White boy, also an orphan, and nurses him when contagion strikes. When Faye is 14, she has an illegitimate daughter who is adopted and raised in England. Presumably that girl is Zoe Moy, who, in 1927, attends the famously progressive Summerhill School, where a disastrous social experiment in fascism destroys her relationship with a beloved poetry teacher. In 2014, Zoe’s emotionally fragile granddaughter, Greta, loses both her skyrocketing tech career and the love of her life at the hands of an evil capitalist. While several earlier Moys receive aid and guidance from Buddhist monks, Greta’s troubled poet daughter, Dorothy, turns to both Buddhism and radical scientific treatment to uncover and understand how past crises, emotional, physical, and spiritual, are destabilizing her current life in 2045. Expect long treatises on anamnesis, quantum biology, and reincarnation before traveling with Dorothy’s adult daughter in 2086.

Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-5821-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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