Three free-floating—or crisscrossing, if you prefer—novellas relating the continuing, creative, and not fully credible adventures of Leib Goldkorn, the Åbermensch refugee who first appeared in Epstein’s Steinway Quintet (1976). In this telling, he emerges as perhaps the most indomitable Jew to walk through a lion’s den since Daniel. Although he was born in Vienna at the turn of the century, Leib Goldkorn’s whole life seems much more suited to the New World than the Old. At home everywhere—but seemingly without a fixed address—Leib, now 97, is a wanderer who’s seldom at a loss in new surroundings and seems to run into old friends wherever he goes. In “Ice,” we find him stuck in Paris during Kristallnacht. True, it’s better than being in Vienna, but the whole continent is starting to look bad. Fortunately, fate intervenes in the person of Daryl Zanuck, who sends off a telegram demanding that he come to L.A. to compose the score for a new Sonja Henie film. “Fire” is a continuation of Leib’s Hollywood saga, in which he finds himself conducting a shipboard romance with Carmen Miranda en route to South America, and “Water” puts him still farther afield in the South Seas, where he manages to rescue Esther Williams from a tribe of cannibals. The stories overlap, though, and contain digressions enough—usually female—to make Tristram Shandy (or even Tom Jones) lose his train of thought. There’s Leib’s beloved Crystal Knight, the most brilliant ingÇnue ever to be airbrushed by Larry Flynt. And Clara, Leib’s longsuffering wife, who resurfaces in his memory every so often to remind him that he’s an honest man. Most intriguing, perhaps, is the mysterious, inscrutable, and vaguely nefarious ice queen whom Leib finds himself pursuing through the streets of Manhattan with a positively adolescent obsessiveness: Michiko Kakutani. Defies convention in any strict sense, but who cares? Epstein’s imagination is as fluid as quicksilver and as volatile as magnesium.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-393-04804-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2000

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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