Disreputable lives raised to the level of Literature.

THE PARTS

If John Dos Passos were writing today, had been influenced by Irvine Welsh, and had set Manhattan Transfer in Dublin, this might have been the result.

In a grand house outside Dublin lives Fidelma (“Delly”) Roche, widow of pharmaceutical tycoon Daniel Gilmore, who died in mysterious circumstances in a helicopter crash 20 years ago along with Delly’s lover, Frank Cullen, Gilmore’s corporate lieutenant. Now, aging Delly is dying of colon cancer (or is she only being drugged to keep her from finding out what’s happening on her estate?) and is being cared for by Kitty Flood, an obese, somewhat successful novelist and a lesbian, and Roche and Gilmore’s adopted son, Dr. George Addison-Blake, an American left on the doorstep of his namesake hospital as an infant suffering from an incurable disease that Daniel Gilmore’s research later cured. Meanwhile, in town, Joe Kavanagh, a radio talk show host whose wife has left him, taking their daughter, decides to upgrade his show and so instructs his young, gay, horny producer to find more offbeat guests. The sixth member of the ensemble here is the “rent boy” Kevin, whose brief internal monologues punctuate descriptions of the others’ actions and memories, including pornography, drug sales, murder, infidelity, insanity, ménages à trois, and futile attempts at being good neighbors. All are brought together when Barry invites Kevin to appear on Joe’s show, George kidnaps Kevin for his experiments in Gilmore’s underground lair, and Kitty discovers the lair and inadvertently frees Kevin, whereupon Delly finds him wandering about the house and calls the cops. Meanwhile, Barry and Joe have enlisted Kevin’s brother, a tough on the fringes of organized crime, who knows George through his drug and pornography dealing, to help find Kevin. Could all of this have been avoided if Daniel Gilmore had actually invented the memory-erasure drug he was said to be working on when he died? And did he invent it?

Disreputable lives raised to the level of Literature.

Pub Date: June 16, 2004

ISBN: 0-312-32769-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004

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A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

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THE NIGHT WATCHMAN

In this unhurried, kaleidoscopic story, the efforts of Native Americans to save their lands from being taken away by the U.S. government in the early 1950s come intimately, vividly to life.

Erdrich’s grandfather Patrick Gourneau was part of the first generation born on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. As the chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in the mid-1950s, he had to use all the political savvy he could muster to dissuade Utah Sen. Arthur V. Watkins (whom Erdrich calls a “pompous racist” in her afterword) from reneging on long-held treaties between Native Americans and the federal government. Erdrich's grandfather is the inspiration for her novel’s protagonist, Thomas Wazhushk, the night watchman of the title. He gets his last name from the muskrat, "the lowly, hardworking, water-loving rodent," and Thomas is a hard worker himself: In between his rounds at a local factory, at first uncertain he can really help his tribe, he organizes its members and writes letters to politicians, "these official men with their satisfied soft faces," opposing Watkins' efforts at "terminating" their reservation. Erdrich reveals Thomas' character at night when he's alone; still reliable and self-sacrificing, he becomes more human, like the night he locks himself out of the factory, almost freezes to death, and encounters a vision of beings, "filmy and brightly indistinct," descending from the stars, including Jesus Christ, who "looked just like the others." Patrice Paranteau is Thomas' niece, and she’s saddled with a raging alcoholic father and financial responsibility for her mother and brother. Her sister, Vera, deserts the reservation for Minneapolis; in the novel’s most suspenseful episode, Patrice boldly leaves home for the first time to find her sister, although all signs point to a bad outcome for Vera. Patrice grows up quickly as she navigates the city’s underbelly. Although the stakes for the residents of Turtle Mountain will be apocalyptic if their tribe is terminated, the novel is more an affectionate sketchbook of the personalities living at Turtle Mountain than a tightly plotted arc that moves from initial desperation to political triumph. Thomas’ boyhood friend Roderick returns as a ghost who troubles Thomas in his night rounds, for example; Patrice sleeps close to a bear and is vastly changed; two young men battle for Patrice’s heart.

A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-267118-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Rather than settle for a coming-of-age or travails-of-immigrants story, Hosseini has folded them both into this searing...

THE KITE RUNNER

Here’s a real find: a striking debut from an Afghan now living in the US. His passionate story of betrayal and redemption is framed by Afghanistan’s tragic recent past.

Moving back and forth between Afghanistan and California, and spanning almost 40 years, the story begins in Afghanistan in the tranquil 1960s. Our protagonist Amir is a child in Kabul. The most important people in his life are Baba and Hassan. Father Baba is a wealthy Pashtun merchant, a larger-than-life figure, fretting over his bookish weakling of a son (the mother died giving birth); Hassan is his sweet-natured playmate, son of their servant Ali and a Hazara. Pashtuns have always dominated and ridiculed Hazaras, so Amir can’t help teasing Hassan, even though the Hazara staunchly defends him against neighborhood bullies like the “sociopath” Assef. The day, in 1975, when 12-year-old Amir wins the annual kite-fighting tournament is the best and worst of his young life. He bonds with Baba at last but deserts Hassan when the latter is raped by Assef. And it gets worse. With the still-loyal Hassan a constant reminder of his guilt, Amir makes life impossible for him and Ali, ultimately forcing them to leave town. Fast forward to the Russian occupation, flight to America, life in the Afghan exile community in the Bay Area. Amir becomes a writer and marries a beautiful Afghan; Baba dies of cancer. Then, in 2001, the past comes roaring back. Rahim, Baba’s old business partner who knows all about Amir’s transgressions, calls from Pakistan. Hassan has been executed by the Taliban; his son, Sohrab, must be rescued. Will Amir wipe the slate clean? So he returns to the hell of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and reclaims Sohrab from a Taliban leader (none other than Assef) after a terrifying showdown. Amir brings the traumatized child back to California and a bittersweet ending.

Rather than settle for a coming-of-age or travails-of-immigrants story, Hosseini has folded them both into this searing spectacle of hard-won personal salvation. All this, and a rich slice of Afghan culture too: irresistible.

Pub Date: June 2, 2003

ISBN: 1-57322-245-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

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