Those who remember the ’60s, at least from one side of the culture wars, will like this yarn.

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TRUE BELIEVERS

A deliberately paced look back at the tumultuous 1960s, that era of free love, beads and bombs.

Karen Hollander, 64 years old and counting, has been working very hard for the last four decades, immersed in social issues and legal battles. Now, having withdrawn her candidacy for the U.S. Supreme Court, she’s embarked upon writing a memoir that’s bound to upset more than one apple cart. Step one, the reader being tougher at vetting than any Senate committee, she needs to establish her credentials: “I am a reliable narrator. Unusually reliable. Trust me.” Any survivor of the ’60s will tell you that anyone who begs to be trusted is probably a narc, but not Karen, who is “old enough to forgo the self-protective fibs and lies but still young enough to get the memoir nailed down before the memories begin disintegrating.” It would spoil Studio 360 host Andersen’s (Turn of the Century, 1999, etc.) fun to give too much away, but suffice it to say that Karen is about to tell some tales out of school that involve intelligence agencies, plots to kill prominent politicians and other hijinks that definitively do not befit peace-and-love types. Naturally, there are people from the time who do not wish her to reveal such things, and so the plot thickens—as indeed it must, given Karen’s lifelong love of James Bond. (“The world must be crawling with make-believe secret agents,” she thinks.) Andersen’s tone is smart and sometimes rueful: “During high school,” he has Karen recall, “we never discussed and weren’t even quite aware of the straddle we were attempting, studying hard and participating in extracurriculars even while we reimagined ourselves as existential renegades driven by contempt for conventional ambition and hypocrisy.” The grown-up attitude suits the novel, which lacks the exuberance of Andersen’s Heyday (2007), a tale of the revolutionary year of 1848. Neither is it reserved, though. About its only flaw is its title, which, absent the plural marker, already belongs to a 1989 film about, yes, a ’60s survivor and lawyer battling for truth and justice, all a little too close for comfort.

Those who remember the ’60s, at least from one side of the culture wars, will like this yarn.

Pub Date: July 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6720-6

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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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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