High-flying excitement that’s missing an emotional edge.

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WINGS OF CONTRITION

A TALE OF YOUNG MEN COMING OF AGE IN THE MAELSTROM AND HORROR OF THE WORLD'S FIRST AIR WAR

In this World War I–era novel, a British soldier confronts how shameful it is to abandon the honor and glory of his country—and maybe his best friend.

As the First World War breaks out, aristocrat and English public school product James Caulfield joins the Royal Flying Corps in France. Debut novelist Hughes depicts how the flying life during that era was mild to say the least: In flimsy B.E.2 biplanes, unarmed pilots and observers, safe from the maelstrom of trench warfare, gazed down from 8,000 feet to sketch the position of the German front line. The Germans do likewise; often, opposing pilots wave to each other. But then, however, the Germans have the cheek to start shooting at their opponents and—outrageously—mount machine guns on their new planes. True war catches up with Caulfield as his comrades, outgunned by their foes, meet grim deaths. In a hospital after being shot down himself, he woos and matches wits with a nurse who turns out to be a strong-minded suffragette. Sent back to England to recuperate, he finds that the politicians and military commanders have no idea what is really happening in France. Back in action, this time with his best friend from high school, Caulfield is shocked to realize that although the average age within the squadron is mid-20s, everyone looks 20 years older. An urgent order comes for a patrol to check on the presence of a far superior plane, the German Eindekker monoplane. Caulfield faces the twin demons of terror and despair as the enemy greets him. The British planes haven’t a hope, but he can’t abandon his best friend, who’s gone missing. Or can he? Hughes succeeds in emphasizing the individual and technical aspects of the war’s main themes, including jingoism, class distinctions, women’s rights, aircraft development, trench warfare and political blundering. But the tale falls short in highlighting, and linking, genuine emotion and believable reasons for individual actions. The historical accuracy mixes uneasily with an awkward attempt to weave a tale of how ordinary men react in moments of crisis.

High-flying excitement that’s missing an emotional edge.

Pub Date: June 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-1482590241

Page Count: 216

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2013

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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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