A strong, stirring generational tale about a Russian family’s travails.


A second-generation Russian Jew travels to Moscow for a semester abroad in 1980 looking for answers about her family history in this novel.

Anna, a college student, knows very little family lore. She was told that her great-grandmother Zlata was raped and killed during the Russian Revolution. Later, Anna’s grandparents, who met and married in America, willingly returned to Russia with their little girls—Anna’s mother and her younger sister—then fled back to the United States. The book’s narration alternates among time periods: the protagonist in the 1980s; her great-grandmother and Zlata’s daughter, Sarah, in 1917; and Anna’s grandparents’ sojourn in Russia in the early 20th century. Sometime after Zlata’s death, Sarah reluctantly went to America at her uncle’s behest (her father had gone there years before and started a new family). Sarah married Leon Vitsky, they had two daughters, and during the Depression that shook their faith in capitalism, off they went to Russia. In the present, Anna falls in love with young Iosif Belonsky, whose great-uncle Victor, by an uncanny coincidence, was a longtime friend of Leon’s. It was Victor who urged Leon to return to Russia and do his part in building the new and glorious Communist state. During her semester in Moscow, Anna discovers details about her family that will change her life. The book’s dedication suggests that the novel is close to Bordetsky-Williams’ family history. She is an experienced writer, and that shows in the craft and the passion behind this story. Especially moving and painful is the faith that Victor, a true believer, places in the new regime. He paints a picture for Leon of a Communist paradise when in fact conditions are worse there than in developing countries. Sarah is appalled, and Leon finally breaks free of Victor’s spell. But Victor believes in the dream even as he faces Stalin’s firing squad. The fatal consequences of idealism have never been clearer. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” has never been demonstrated more tragically. But readers get a vivid picture of ordinary Russians as warmhearted, giving people, making their plight all the more poignant.

A strong, stirring generational tale about a Russian family’s travails.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73284-804-7

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Tailwinds Press Enterprises LLC

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

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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 loose-limbed, bighearted Hollywood yarn.


A fictional account of the agony and ecstasy of making a movie, from someone who’d know.

For his sprightly debut novel, actor/writer/national treasure Hanks—author of the story collection Uncommon Type, 2017—imagines the making of Knightshade: The Lathe of Firefall, a mashup of Marvel-esque superhero fare, war story, and artsy melodrama. The movie’s concept seems like an unworkable, even bad idea, which is part of the point—Hanks stresses the notion that successful movies aren’t just a matter of story but the people who make them. So he’s assembled an engrossing cast of characters: Bob Falls, the World War II vet who served as a flamethrower in the Pacific theater and became a PTSD–struck biker; Robby Andersen, the nephew who turned him into alternative-comix antihero Firefall; Bill Johnson, the well-decorated Spielberg-ian director who acquires the Firefall property and writes the script; and the small army of actors, assistants, and technicians charged with shooting the film in the Northern California town of Lone Butte—on time, lest morale collapse and the budget inflate. Hanks ably depicts how easily things derail. The male lead’s ego wrecks the shooting schedule. A stray social media post complicates security. On-set flirtations threaten a marriage. But the novel reflects the sunny stick-to-it-iveness of many of Hanks’ roles, and his central thesis is that every movie’s true hero is anybody who reduces friction. To that end, his most enchanting and best-drawn characters are the director’s assistant, Al Mac-Teer (full name Allicia), and Ynez Gonzalez-Cruz, a ride-share driver with no movie experience but a knack for problem-solving. “Most of the film business is done by meeting folks,” one character says, and Hanks suggests that meeting the right people—and being kind to them—is half the battle of successful moviemaking. Overly romantic? Consider the source. Regardless, it’s a well-turned tale of a Hollywood (maybe) success. (Sikoryak illustrates some comic-book pages related to the Firefall backstory and film.)

A loose-limbed, bighearted Hollywood yarn.

Pub Date: May 9, 2023

ISBN: 9780525655596

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023

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