Thorough research and stylish execution make for a striking tour de force.

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IN THE REALM OF ASH AND SORROW

A U.S. airman dies and finds himself in limbo after being shot down over Hiroshima in Harmon’s novel (The Paranormalist, 2019, etc.).

Bombardier Micah Lund’s B-29 is on a mission to drop propaganda leaflets over Hiroshima during the campaign against Japan in World War II. Having lost his brother to Japanese fire on Guadalcanal, Micah is set on revenge, openly declaring that “hate doesn’t begin to describe how I feel.” After taking flak, the plane goes down, and the crew attempt a difficult bail out. Kiyomi Oshiro, a young mother and war widow, sees an airman falling through the sky. Micah’s body lands near Kiyomi, and, to the disgust of the attending Japanese military police, she whispers a prayer for him. Micah learns he isn’t in heaven but limbo—a “black void”—when he awakes and discovers a group of soldiers laughing at his dead body. This only intensifies his hatred for the Japanese, yet he is strangely drawn to Kiyomi and follows her. He soon encounters others in limbo and learns that it is possible to communicate with the living. His first thought is to relay intelligence to U.S headquarters, but his unfamiliar emotions for Kiyomi create an opposing pull. Other than the devastating reality that the atomic bomb will be dropped, the reader is given little indication of how the plot will unfold. As Micah observes Japanese civilians, he begins to understand their suffering, as in this elegant description of Kiyomi bathing: “Dirt and grime fell off in black rivulets. …As she eased into the steaming water, he noticed the tautness of her skin, how her stomach concaved and her ribs lay exposed. She’s starving to death, he thought.” The novel becomes in part a thoughtful study of how human connection can challenge racist ideology. Harmon also displays a profound understanding of Japanese culture, drawing on folklore to illuminate what happens beyond the veil: “When a person dies, their soul exits the body in the shape of a bluish ball of light we call a Hitodama.” This is an extraordinarily imaginative and compelling exploration of love, death, race, and patriotism with countless unusual twists to keep the reader guessing.

Thorough research and stylish execution make for a striking tour de force.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-578-59150-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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