Finely observed and ultimately redemptive, but the gloom and reticence are overwhelming in this old-fashioned, rather too...

THE PEACOCK FEAST

Two women, bonded by blood but more importantly by their experiences of crushing loss and retreat from life, find each other before it’s too late.

Synthesizing sensitive and soapy, Gornick’s (Louisa Meets Bear, 2015, etc.) fourth novel—a chopped-up chronology of a scattered family line—features Prudence O’Connor, age 101 in the present time of this multiera saga, but only 4 on the day of the family tragedy that the novel slowly disinters. Events are set in motion when Grace, Prudence’s previously unknown great-niece, turns up on the older woman’s Manhattan doorstep, bearing mementos from the past and news about Prudence’s brother, Randall, who quit the family for California when he was 14, some nine decades earlier. Prudence and Randall’s Irish immigrant parents were servants in the lavish household of glass artist Louis C. Tiffany, and although both Prudence and Randall marry “up,” Prudence never loses a sense of her humbler origins. Death visits the book’s pages regularly—a parent’s early demise; an abortion; a suicide; a fall into a ravine; a shooting; an execution. “What is the purpose of life?” asks Prudence, whose marriage to stiff, upper-class Carlton denies her children and who is too much “a coward of the heart” to grab happiness when it is offered. Randall, meanwhile, had a son, Leopold, the father to Grace and her twin brother, Garcia—another branch of the family tree marked by disappointment and pain. The deftness of Gornick’s talent is visible in the hints and glimpses of the past that puncture the rather more rote accounts of the passing generations. The family secret, when finally revealed, is less a surprise than a confirmation of what has been suggested and tidily connects the foundational dots—class, cash, death, regret.

Finely observed and ultimately redemptive, but the gloom and reticence are overwhelming in this old-fashioned, rather too visibly predetermined family drama.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-23054-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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Bestselling Hannah (True Colors, 2009, etc.) sabotages a worthy effort with an overly neat resolution.

WINTER GARDEN

A Russian refugee’s terrible secret overshadows her family life.

Meredith, heir apparent to her family’s thriving Washington State apple enterprises, and Nina, a globetrotting photojournalist, grew up feeling marginalized by their mother. Anya saw her daughters as merely incidental to her grateful love for their father Evan, who rescued her from a German prison camp. The girls know neither their mother’s true age, nor the answers to several other mysteries: her color-blindness, her habit of hoarding food despite the family’s prosperity and the significance of her “winter garden” with its odd Cyrillic-inscribed columns. The only thawing in Anya’s mien occurs when she relates a fairy tale about a peasant girl who meets a prince and their struggles to live happily ever after during the reign of a tyrannical Black Knight. After Evan dies, the family comes unraveled: Anya shows signs of dementia; Nina and Meredith feud over whether to move Mom from her beloved dacha-style home, named Belye Nochi after the summer “white nights” of her native Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Anya, now elderly but of preternaturally youthful appearance—her white hair has been that way as long as the girls can remember—keeps babbling about leather belts boiled for soup, furniture broken up for firewood and other oddities. Prompted by her daughters’ snooping and a few vodka-driven dinners, she grudgingly divulges her story. She is not Anya, but Vera, sole survivor of a Russian family; her father, grandmother, mother, sister, husband and two children were all lost either to Stalin’s terror or during the German army’s siege of Leningrad. Anya’s chronicle of the 900-day siege, during which more than half a million civilians perished from hunger and cold, imparts new gravitas to the novel, easily overwhelming her daughters’ more conventional “issues.” The effect, however, is all but vitiated by a manipulative and contrived ending.

Bestselling Hannah (True Colors, 2009, etc.) sabotages a worthy effort with an overly neat resolution.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-36412-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2009

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