Eloquent but overburdened.

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Basalt City

A fictional small town adjusts to the changing concepts of American identity in this discourse-heavy novel crammed with characters and 1920s history.

In Basalt City, Ore., reporter Donna Swan, priest Father Schmidt, teacher Peggy York, temperance-movement–leader Daisy Newton, barber Emil Mazzoni, moonshiner Dixon Jones, and a “klavern” of Ku Kluxers are a mere sampling of the characters in Hobart’s saga. There’s no shortage of historical conflict: labor strikes, integration, immigration, Prohibition, etc.—and Hobart takes on more than enough. Every character grapples with contentious cultural issues, and at times, they embody archetypes. Open-minded and open-hearted Peggy York, for example, seems to represent the future. She’s even bold enough to criticize the Klan at a public event: “What kind of community do we have when it is argued that people who do not share our values are not just wrong but morally inferior?” she asks. “What will this prejudice do to our future economic growth and standard of living?” One of Hobart’s successful devices is the inclusion of meeting minutes from the Basalt City Klavern of the Ku Klux Klan, providing insight into the group’s thought process. However, Hobart relies heavily on dialogue, which is often too expository to be believed. Much of the novel’s plot is driven by civic debate, particularly an initiative to abolish private schools; the Klan, especially, fears the presence of Catholic schools. The school initiative dominates much of the novel’s first half, but when that matter is settled, other civic concerns rush in to take its place. “That summer,” Hobart writes, “Basalt City slipped off the edge of emotional excitement brought on by concern over the strike, the election, the legislature, the KKK march, and the black ghetto.” The omnipresent animus among some of the city’s residents leads to kidnapping, rape, hostage holding and suicides, each event laced with political motivations. However, in the rich but broad story, a surprisingly happy ending for many of the characters provides some relief.

Eloquent but overburdened.

Pub Date: May 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-1480276086

Page Count: 414

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2013

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Follett's fans will enjoy this jaunt through the days before England was merry.

THE EVENING AND THE MORNING

Murder, sex, and unholy ambition threaten to overwhelm the glimmers of light in Dark Ages England in this prequel to The Pillars of the Earth (1989).

A Viking raid in 997 C.E. kills Edgar’s one true love, Sungifu, and he vows never to love another—but come on, he’s only 18. The young man is a talented builder who has strong personal values. Weighing the consequences of helping a slave escape, he muses, “Perhaps there were principles more important than the rule of law.” Meanwhile, Lady Ragna is a beautiful French noblewoman who comes to Shiring, marries the local ealdorman, Wilwulf, and starts a family. Much of the action takes place in Dreng’s Ferry, a tiny hamlet with “half a dozen houses and a church.” Dreng is a venal, vicious ferryman who hurls his slave’s newborn child into a river and is only one of several characters whose death readers will eagerly root for. Bishop Wynstan lusts to become an archbishop and will crush anyone who stands in his way. He clashes with Ragna as she announces she is lord of the Vale of Outhen. “Wait!” he says to the people, “Are you going to be ruled by a mere woman?” (Wynstan’s fate is delicious.) Aldred is a kindly monk who harbors an unrequited love for Edgar, who in turn loves Ragna but knows it’s hopeless: Although widowed after Wilwulf’s sudden death, she remains above Edgar’s station. There are plenty of other colorful people in this richly told, complex story: slaves, rapists, fornicators, nobles, murderers, kind and decent people, and men of the cloth with “Whore’s Leprosy.” The plot at its core, though, is boy meets girl—OK, Edgar meets Ragna—and a whole lot of trouble stands in the way of their happiness. They are attractive and sympathetic protagonists, and more’s the pity they’re stuck in the 11th century. Readers may guess the ending well before Page 900—yes, it’s that long—but Follett is a powerful storyteller who will hold their attention anyway.

Follett's fans will enjoy this jaunt through the days before England was merry.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-595498-9

Page Count: 928

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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A bold historical portrait of a woman overcoming oppression marred by inconsistent character development.

FIFTY WORDS FOR RAIN

Born into a noble Japanese family during World War II, Noriko Kamiza should be a princess, but her illegitimacy makes her a disgrace to her own family.

At only 8 years old, Nori is left at her maternal grandparents’ manor in Kyoto. As she abandons her daughter, Nori's mother gives her a bit of advice: Obey your grandparents. Do not resist. Nori's grandparents are horrified at Nori's very existence: Her skin color, which reveals that her father was an African American serviceman, is visible proof of their daughter's infidelity. Nori's life will be hard, and Lemmie's debut novel traces her journey from being hidden in her grandparents’ attic, beaten, and subjected to painful bleach baths to lighten her skin; to being sold to a brothel and groomed for sale to the highest bidder; to being rescued and finding freedom from her grandmother's abuse. Meanwhile, Nori discovers that she has an older half brother named Akira. Seeing Akira as the only hope to redeem the family’s honor, Nori’s grandmother is dismayed to witness Akira and Nori's deep love for each other. Lemmie’s sweeping historical backdrop, from the post–World War II decline of minor royalty through the expanding liberations of the 1960s, is breathtaking. Unfortunately, Nori’s own metamorphosis into a strong young woman is inconsistent and a bit confusing. Again and again, just when we think she has found a deep internal strength to endure or even overcome adversity, Nori lapses into a shrill childish tantrum. Moreover, the majority of the novel propels Nori toward a grand moment of defying her grandmother, but in the final pages Lemmie pulls her punch, leading the reader to wonder if Nori has another plan up her sleeve to be played out in a sequel.

A bold historical portrait of a woman overcoming oppression marred by inconsistent character development.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4636-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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