A search for the painful and awkward wellsprings of the novelistic imagination.



In Croatian novelist Novak's English-language debut, a young novelist is forced to confront the terrible moment in his childhood when his career as a fable-maker began, not by choice but by necessity.

Matija is a writer with two well-received novels behind him, but he's been floundering for more than a year now on a follow-up, and one by one his trusted readers are confirming what he has suspected: It's going nowhere. Meanwhile, Matija's girlfriend, Dina, with whom he's been happy, issues an ultimatum: He has to keep his inventions confined to fiction, has to stop being so deceitful—or is it just evasive?—about his childhood. As a test, Dina brings several old photos for him to explicate. Matija does so, at length and feelingly, before Dina tearfully informs him that the photos are fakes; she has doctored them herself, and they have nothing to do with him. After Dina dumps him, Matija reluctantly decides to revisit an epoch he has utterly expunged from memory—the years before, at age 7, he and his family left their village in Međimurje for Zagreb at the beginning of the Yugoslav Wars in 1991. Coming to grips with that past requires him to excavate the lonely, awful, bewildering period immediately after his father's death, a stretch whose agonies culminated in an epidemic of eight suicides in Matija's village. That suicide cluster attracted attention not only to the village, but to a particular little boy, in the research called M.D., who knew all the victims and who was thought by some (perhaps including himself) to be obscurely responsible. Novak captures well the way that grief may isolate, dislocate, and unmoor the bereaved, especially if it's a child left largely to fend for himself. The boy Matija wanders the countryside looking for his dead father and trying to negotiate for his return—from the police, from the land itself, and from the folkloric "will-o'-the-wisps" who inhabit the region.

A search for the painful and awkward wellsprings of the novelistic imagination.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-1610-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: AmazonCrossing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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