A sweeping historical epic anchored by a compelling heroine, finely honed historical detail and a fully realized setting.

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THE FIG ORCHARD

In Fiske’s debut novel, a young peasant woman fights to keep her family together and embarks on a journey of discovery and empowerment.

Nisrina Huniah’s childhood is filled with tragedy and hardship. Born in a remote Palestinian village called Beit el Jebel near the turn of the 20th century, Nisrina’s mother died in childbirth, leaving her father, Isa, a grieving widower. She grows up with a loving stepmother, but her emotionally distant father wants her to marry rather than attend school with her best friend, Lamia. Despite her misgivings, she finds happiness and contentment with her husband, Jabran Yusef, a kind man who works in his family’s orchards. Prior to the birth of Nisrina’s third child, however, her world is shattered when Jabran is kidnapped by Turkish soldiers and forced to serve in their army. With his fate uncertain, Nisrina is left with a difficult choice: leave her children with the Yusef family and marry another man, or find a way to support herself and her children alone. She decides to attend a Catholic university and become a midwife, and this decision marks a pivotal turning point in her life; afterward, she struggles to keep her children and establish an independent identity in a tradition-bound society, while also holding out hope her beloved husband will one day return. Fiske’s ambitious novel successfully weaves several subplots into a single, emotionally rich tapestry. Nisrina’s story, particularly her education as a midwife, serves as the heart of the novel, but Jabran’s experiences as a conscript in the Turkish army are just as dynamic. These two characters are surrounded by a well-developed cast of supporting players, including members of Jabran’s extended family and the nuns at the university. The setting also plays an important role in the lives and fates of Fiske’s characters (“[T]he change in seasons…signaled the start of the sacred olive harvest, a month long event that brought together the young and the old, the strong and the weak”), and the author does a fine job of depicting daily life in a Middle Eastern village.

A sweeping historical epic anchored by a compelling heroine, finely honed historical detail and a fully realized setting.

Pub Date: July 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-0989455404

Page Count: 450

Publisher: Rancho Publishing, LLC

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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