OUR RICHES

A lovely book about books—and freedom.

An understated, lyrical story of reading and resistance over the tumultuous generations.

“For centuries the sun has been rising over the terraces of Algiers, and for centuries, on those terraces, we have been killing each other.” So writes Adimi in the first of her novels to be translated into English, a story that unfolds over decades, beginning in 1936, when a young pied noir named Edmond Charlot (who was a real person) buys a tiny bookstore in Algiers. He calls it Les Vraies Richesses, meaning something like “the true wealth.” In time he starts a publishing house, discovering a young Albert Camus. World War II follows, and Charlot battles censorship and paper shortages; then comes the Algerian War, and though readers continue to come to his store, no one has any money: “When I can, I slip them something I love and say, ‘Take it: fix me up later,’ ” Charlot records in his journal. Adimi recounts Charlot’s inspiring passion for books and ideas through his own voice and those of others, including one of his converts, a now old man named Abdallah, who tends to the store long after the death of its founder. But the Algerian authorities have no use for such secular spaces; as a journalist notes, “The government is sacrificing culture to build mosques on every street corner!” A young man named Ryad, an engineering student, is sent to clean out and refurbish the space. “Destroying a bookstore, you call that work?” Abdallah, who wears a shroud around his shoulders so that “the day God calls me, they’ll be able to bury me straight away,” asks the dutiful young man. The books he is sent to trash eventually enrapture Ryad, of course. Populated by the ordinary citizens of Algiers and such figures from French literary history as Robert Aron and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Adimi’s gently spun story takes an ominous turn as it nears its end, when the secret police turn up with increasing frequency, their “mustaches, sunglasses, dark suits” the uniform of the enemies of literature.

A lovely book about books—and freedom.

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2815-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

THE UNSEEN

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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