Evoking Coetzee’s Disgrace and Gordimer’s The House Gun, Cartwright brings new twists and a sure touch to his tragicomedy...



South-African born novelist Cartwright (Lion Heart, 2014, etc.) casts a sardonic eye on a London expat who’s trying to uncover, if not openly parade, his Afrikaner heritage.

For most of his adult life, Frank McAllister, Oxford-educated child of a liberal South African journalist, has succeeded wonderfully in keeping apartheid’s history at bay by adopting an English identity. A canny investor, he’s acquired an art collection and horses and a few good friends who are gamely paddling against the “onrushing middle years.” His one foothold in South Africa is a beach house nestled on the Cape Town coast where he can escape dreary London winters and his ex-wife’s bizarre demands. He’s relishing the chance to share this paradise with his new love, Nellie—a Scandinavian domestic goddess—and her mildly miscreant teenage son. Warming to the role of Kaapstad Prospero, Frank has planned nifty diversions for his guests. All the while, he strives to minimize their exposure to his not-distant-enough Afrikaner cousin, Jaco Retief. A once-promising snorkeler with extortionist tendencies, Jaco’s status dive in the “new” South Africa pricks at Frank’s conscience. Jaco’s presumption that “oom” (uncle) Frank and he are holdouts “up against” the current regime baffles and unnerves him. (At several points in the story, Jaco’s unfiltered rants whiz by—fast, highly comedic, loaded to kill like a psychopathic scuba fisherman’s spear gun—giving some urgency to Frank’s quandary over how to banish this badass kinsman for good.) Frank also wants to get on a fresh footing with his 21-year-old daughter, Lucinda, just out of rehab, who arrives on scene with a small black child whose parents’ whereabouts she promises to explain. Frank hopes she’ll open up on their planned trek to a few historical sites tied to his pioneering Boer ancestor Piet Retief. Retief’s infamous murder by a Zulu chief (re-created for Veldt tourists by live actors) doesn’t entirely match up with contemporary accounts, and Frank feels compelled to sort it all out. Shockingly, his born-again curiosity and engagement with a country and people he’s stood back from for so long expose him to a new “custom” he doesn’t see coming.

Evoking Coetzee’s Disgrace and Gordimer’s The House Gun, Cartwright brings new twists and a sure touch to his tragicomedy about a decent man’s rude awakening to shared history's capricious side. Caveat emptor, Ancestry.com.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63286-018-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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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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A daring concept not so daringly developed.


In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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