A propulsively written, harrowing story, as desperate as it is timely.

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IT WOULD BE NIGHT IN CARACAS

Former Venezuelan journalist Sainz Borgo's fictional debut shows a woman caught in the violent disintegration of her city and homeland at a time of acute personal loss.

Adelaida Falcón's beloved mother has just died of cancer, leaving her alone in the world, and Caracas is going to the dogs. "Everything was disappearing as fast as my mother faded....Everything was ending: our life, our money, our strength. Even the days were now abbreviated. Being in the street at six in the evening was asking to cut your life short." Through a haze of grief, Adelaida watches protesters clashing with the Sons of the Revolution in the streets below. ("Bastards of the Revolution," she thinks.) The air reeks of tear gas and pepper spray. The story alternates between the violent, increasingly desperate present and a happier time when Caracas drew people from all over the globe. ("I was born and raised in a country that took in men and women from other lands. Tailors, bakers, builders, plumbers, shopkeepers, traders.") She remembers visits to an Italian shopkeeper, vacations in the countryside with her mother, songs sung by women hulling maize by hand. Now Venezuelan paper money is worthless, foreign currency outlawed, and rationing so severe that sanitary napkins are "more valuable than toilet paper." Adelaida returns from a failed attempt to buy bread to find she can't open her door. A menacing crew of women black marketeers has taken possession of her apartment. The ringleader, wearing her mother's favorite blouse, laughs when she threatens to call the authorities. Adelaida's subsequent attempts to find safety involve, among other things, a corpse that needs to be disposed of, a friend's brother who was kidnapped by the Sons of the Revolution and is now in hiding, and a brazen, high-stakes gamble with a stolen identity. Sainz Borgo renders the psychological and emotional toll of government collapse with both nuance and authority, thrusting the reader into Adelaida's struggle for existence and the stark choices before her. "We found ourselves wishing ill on the innocent and the executioner alike. We were incapable of differentiating between them."

A propulsively written, harrowing story, as desperate as it is timely.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-293686-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: HarperVia/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

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THE OVERSTORY

Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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