Manifest Destiny meets magic realism.

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ENIGMATIC PILOT

A TALL TALE TOO TRUE

Ripe with symbolism, conspiratorial metaphors and fabulist intents, Saknussemm's third novel (Private Midnight, 2009, etc.) is an allegorical American frontier experience.

It's the 1840s, and Hephaestus Sitturd, son of an itinerant Baptist preacher and a half-Shawnee woman, marries Rapture Meadhorn, whose escaped slave grandfather was a Creole Gullah from the Carolina sea islands. Rapture is an herbalist and healer, valued in the wilderness community of Zanesville, Ohio, but Hephaestus is a tinkerer, intent on building a Time Ark to confront the end-of-the-world prophecies of one William Miller. To the pair is born Lloyd Meadhorn Sitturd, a preternatural genius. At age six, he speaks multiple languages, solves complicated mathematical problems and constructs assorted airships. Dogged by debts and persecuted by bigots, the trio sets out for Amarillo to join Micah Jefferson Sitturd, Hephaestus' half brother, a former Texas Ranger. And thus begins a trek, not Pilgrim's Progress, not an Odyssey, but rather a tropological literary journey down the Ohio to Porkopolis (Cincinnati), across to St. Louis and up the Missouri to Independence. Along the way Lloyd meets Henri St. Ives, a gambler with a fantastical mechanical hand, Professor Mulrooney, married to identical twins who serve as assistants in his traveling medicine show, Urim and Thurimmun, microcephalics deposited in Illinois by a tornado, an underground oracle, and possible agents of the Spirosians and the Vardogers, two secret societies. There's time for Lloyd to fall in love with Hattie, a runaway slave, and attempt interpretation of the scripture of the Quists, a persecuted religious sect. Despite the fabulist plot, Saknussemm's imagination and narrative skills hold the adventure together. Written in connected sequences, the book opens with a surrealistic prologue set in 1869. A young lieutenant on a Great Plains mapping mission observes a man mounted on a mule holding a white gyrfalcon. Is it Lloyd? Readers can only imagine, for the book ends as the Sitturd party sets out from Independence toward Texas.

Manifest Destiny meets magic realism.

Pub Date: March 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8129-7417-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2011

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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