by Lisa See ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 19, 2019
Although this novel’s reach exceeds its grasp, it is a necessary book.
On an island off the South Korean coast, an ancient guild of women divers reckons with the depredations of modernity from 1938 to 2008 in See's (The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, 2017, etc.) latest novel.
The women divers of Jeju Island, known as haenyeo, don't display the usual female subservience. Empowered by the income they derive from their diving, harvesting seafood to consume and sell, haenyeo are heads of households; their husbands mind the children and do menial chores. Young-sook, See’s first-person narrator and protagonist, tells of her family and her ill-fated friendship with Mi-ja, who, rescued from neglectful relatives by Sun-sil, Young-sook’s mother, is initiated into the diving collective headed by Sun-sil. The girls grow up together, dive together, and go on lucrative assignments in the freezing waters near Vladivostok, Russia. They are also married off together, Mi-ja to Sang-mun, who, as World War II progresses, is enriched by collaborating with the Japanese, and Young-sook to Jun-bu, a neighbor and childhood playmate. The novel’s first half is anecdotal and a little tedious as the minutiae of the haenyeo craft are explored: free diving, pre-wetsuit diving garb, and sumbisori, the art of held breath. As two tragedies prove, the most prized catches are the riskiest: octopus and abalone. See did extensive research with primary sources to detail not only the haenyeo traditions, but the mass murders on Jeju beginning in 1948, which were covered up for decades by the South Korean government. As Jeju villages are decimated, Young-sook loses half her family and also, due to a terrible betrayal, her friendship with Mi-ja. The tangled web of politics and tyranny, not to mention the inaction of U.N. and American occupiers leading up to the massacres, deserves its own work, perhaps nonfiction. In the context of such horrors, the novel’s main source of suspense, whether Young-sook can forgive Mi-ja, seems beside the point.Although this novel’s reach exceeds its grasp, it is a necessary book.
Pub Date: March 19, 2019
Page Count: 384
Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2018
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2019
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by Kristin Hannah ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 3, 2015
Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.
Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.
In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.
Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015
Page Count: 448
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014
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by Madeline Miller ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 10, 2018
Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.
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Best Books Of 2018
New York Times Bestseller
A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.
“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.
Pub Date: April 10, 2018
Page Count: 400
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018
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