As fascinating and tangled as an old woman’s fireside reminiscences: a jumbled mosaic of memories folded into the history of...


A wide-ranging portrait of Soviet and pre-Soviet society and history as seen by an elderly matriarch living on the shores of the Crimean Sea. The second English-language appearance from the celebrated Russian geneticist-turned-novelist (The Funeral Party, 2001).

Although it weighs in at just over 300 pages, the story has a Tolstoyan heft to it, not only in its seriousness but in the dizzying array of characters who wander in and out. The heart of the tale is Medea Georgievna Sinoply Mendez, now (in the 1970s) a widow of more than 20 years. Born in the 1890s to a Greek family that had settled many generations earlier in a Crimean village, Medea was a freethinking young woman who became enamored of Communism long before the 1917 revolution. Her late husband Samuel Mendez, a Jew who became one of the first Party members in Russia, was an officer in a special detachment of the Red Army. Although he left Medea childless, she had a large extended family and many friends, and her house on the Crimean is always crowded now with visitors during the summer holiday season. There is Medea’s childhood playmate Elena, who married Medea’s brother: She came from a wealthy Armenian family, and her father supported Medea and her 12 brothers and sisters after both of their parents died young. Elena’s son Georgii is also a summer visitor. Then there is Medea’s younger sister Alexandra, who married Ivan Isaevich and had a daughter they named Nike, a great favorite of Medea’s. Nike is inseparable from her childhood friend Masha, who grew up to marry Valerii Butonov, a famous athlete and circus performer who became a physician. This is a story of recollection, unfolding backwards as the arrival of Medea’s guests recalls events long past but far from forgotten.

As fascinating and tangled as an old woman’s fireside reminiscences: a jumbled mosaic of memories folded into the history of an age—striking, but badly out of focus.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2002

ISBN: 0-8052-4196-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Schocken

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2002

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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


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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