by Lynn Cullen ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 4, 2011
Cullen’s second historical novel about Renaissance-era Spanish royals, this time concerning the “Mad Queen,” Juana La Loca.
Cullen’s challenge is considerable: find a viable story in the life of Juana, daughter of Isabel and Ferdinand, who is known chiefly for having spent 46 years imprisoned by her family as a madwoman. And find it she does, although it only covers Juana’s brief pre-imprisonment life. Ranging from 1493, when Juana, a teenager, first spots the flaws in her parent’s supposedly idyllic marriage, to 1509, when all the shoes of fate finally drop, this is primarily a tale of a woman’s futile struggle against the entrenched patriarchy of her time. As Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus) returns in triumph to her parents’ court, Juana is entranced by his son, Diego Colón. Soon, though, she is married off to Philippe the Handsome, a Burgundian archduke (and Habsburg heir) who rules Flanders. Far from home, she is at first infatuated with her Habsburg husband. However, as the licentiousness of Philippe's court compared to the relative austerity of Queen Isabel’s continues to shock, her Spanish ladies desert her, except for scholarly and chaste Beatriz. Philippe’s infidelities bring an end to the extended honeymoon, as does Juana’s delay in producing a male child. Their son Charles is born, but his deformed jaw (a Habsburg trait) impedes both nutrition and speech; however, Charles will continue the Habsburg dynasty as Holy Roman Emperor. A number of premature deaths has made Juana the heir apparent to the Spanish throne. But Philippe, by spreading rumors of her mental instability (due, he self-servingly claims, to excessive love for him, despite the fact that their marital relations are now mostly forced), manages to impugn Juana’s competence enough to elevate his own rank from King-consort to King. Juana’s ingrained ineptitude at both overt confrontation, and the more acceptable female route of subversive sabotage, will lead to her downfall, as will her passion for the commoner Diego. Although the outcome is known, the suspense never waivers.
Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2011
Page Count: 448
Review Posted Online: July 19, 2011
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2011
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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.
Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.
Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.
Pub Date: April 7, 2020
Page Count: 272
Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020
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by Amor Towles ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 6, 2016
A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...
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Best Books Of 2016
New York Times Bestseller
Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.
Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).
Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016
Page Count: 480
Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016
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