Dramatic material that has been better explored elsewhere, notably in Giorgio Bassani’s 1962 novel The Garden of the...



Levi’s English-language debut, 2001 winner of the Moravia Prize in Italy, uses a romance to dramatize the plight of Jews under Mussolini.

It’s love at first sight when Dino Carpi approaches the beautiful young woman lying on the ballroom floor in his parents’ hotel in Rome. She has broken her leg in a fall. Dino is a teacher, a classicist and an admirer of the Greek poet Pindar, who prized the harmony which Sonia exemplifies. This happened in 1930. It’s now 1967, and Dino, an old man in Tel Aviv, is writing his life story as a long letter to a recipient in Italy whose identity will remain unknown until the end. (It’s an awkward device.) The story hinges on the fact that Sonia is a Gentile and Dino is a Jew, though only the twice-a-year kind (Yom Kippur and Passover). She reciprocates his love, and the nonobservant Dino accedes to the demands of Sonia’s father, a wealthy banker and ardent fascist, that their marriage be Catholic and his Jewish roots stay hidden from their prospective children. Such a wimp does not make a stirring protagonist, and there’s no drama in Dino’s plodding account of his relationship with the equally passive Sonia. Their wedding and honeymoon barely rate a mention. Sonia’s family are reactionary bores, with the exception of rebellious kid sister Lorenza and witty, iconoclastic cousin Gherardo. They provide the only sparks of life until 1938, when Mussolini turns up the heat with his anti-Semitic proclamations. Dino is fired; his father sells the hotel. Pliant as ever, Dino goes along with Sonia’s plan (hatched by her father) for him to disavow paternity of his six-year-old son Michele; he even agrees to the annulment of his marriage. Only when militantly antifascist Lorenza dies in a suspicious “accident” does Dino express his outrage, but it’s too little, too late, and his solo flight to Palestine is anticlimactic.

Dramatic material that has been better explored elsewhere, notably in Giorgio Bassani’s 1962 novel The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-933372-93-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2009

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.


When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.


In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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