A richly informative but didactic tale about the clash of old and new in India.


An Indian activist and an American architect team up to take on an emerging right-wing movement in this debut novel.

Sompur, India. It’s 2005, and 30-year-old Meena Kaul is the director of Behera House, a women’s shelter with a mission to combat the country’s rampant domestic abuse. Meena is spearheading the building of a newer, larger campus for the organization, though this has caused some tension in her household, as her husband, Keshav Narayan—India’s leading sustainable architect—was passed over in favor of a Western designer. That Westerner is the American Simon Bliss, who is searching for redemption following an accident at one of his previous buildings. Dissatisfied with his own marriage, Simon becomes enamored with the brilliant and beautiful Meena before he even meets her. When an economic downturn causes Meena to lose her funding, she receives a proposal from an unexpected source. The right-wing Hindu Democratic Party offers a grant, though Meena suspects it is only doing so in order to gain traction among female voters ahead of a 2006 election. “There’s no way in hell we’re taking their dirty loot,” protests one of Meena’s staffers, “at least not while I’m here. It’s an ultra-right-wing cabal. If elected, they’ll destroy whatever progress we’ve made on women’s rights over the last hundred years.” Even so, Meena considers taking the deal. But Simon can see that they may be making a devil’s bargain. As it becomes clear that Behera’s patron, Madhav Behera—as well as Kesh—is increasingly in the pocket of the HDP, Simon and Meena must work to keep the shelter free from its grip—even if to do so means making enemies with some very powerful people.

Langer’s prose is lucid and wonderfully detailed, particularly when it comesto the architecture: “Suddenly four magnificent stone towers loomed ahead. Each façade consisted of vertical ribs curving inward and culminating in a mushroom-like stone cap. Deep horizontal spaces cut across the ribs, giving the impression that the tower was made up of a thousand sheets of paper, each suspended by a thin layer of air.” The novel does an excellent job showing the dangers faced by women in certain traditional societies as well as the platform and political strategies of the HDP. But in purely narrative terms, the book is a bit underwhelming. The plot moves quite slowly—as one might expect of a story that focuses on the less-than-thrilling world of non-governmental organization grants—and the romance at the center of it feels rather forced. Meena, the obvious protagonist of the tale, takes a back seat to Simon (and, to an extent, Kesh), diluting the work’s feminist message. Indeed, the very presence of Simon as a co-protagonist is perhaps a fatal flaw in the story’s conception. Readers will certainly learn a lot from this volume—Langer is extremely successful at bringing the time and place to vivid life—but beyond that sense of transportation, this is not much joy to be found here.

A richly informative but didactic tale about the clash of old and new in India.

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2020


Page Count: 327

Publisher: Dryad Press

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2020

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

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What happens when a midlist author steals a manuscript and publishes it as her own?

June Hayward and Athena Liu went to Yale together, moved to D.C. after graduation, and are both writers, but the similarities end there. While June has had little success since publication and is struggling to write her second novel, Athena has become a darling of the publishing industry, much to June’s frustration. When Athena suddenly dies, June, almost accidentally, walks off with her latest manuscript, a novel about the World War I Chinese Labour Corps. June edits the novel and passes it off as her own, and no one seems the wiser, but once the novel becomes a smash success, cracks begin to form. When June faces social media accusations and staggering writer’s block, she can’t shake the feeling that someone knows the truth about what she’s done. This satirical take on racism and success in the publishing industry at times veers into the realm of the unbelievable, but, on the whole, witnessing June’s constant casual racism and flimsy justifications for her actions is somehow cathartic. Yes, publishing is like this; finally someone has written it out. At times, the novel feels so much like a social media feed that it’s impossible to stop reading—what new drama is waiting to unfold. and who will win out in the end? An incredibly meta novel, with commentary on everything from trade reviews to Twitter, the ultimate message is clear from the start, which can lead to a lack of nuance. Kuang, however, does manage to leave some questions unanswered: fodder, perhaps, for a new tweetstorm.

A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

Pub Date: May 16, 2023

ISBN: 9780063250833

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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