A visceral, sweeping depiction of life in the shuddering wake of wartime.

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KATALIN STREET

Three families, whose lives are inextricably linked by the street they inhabit, grapple with love and morality amid political upheaval.

In English for the first time and impeccably translated by Rix (The Door, 2015), Szabó’s quietly captivating novel excavates the tangled history of Hungary’s capital from the portentous moments before the German occupation to its suffocating postwar regime. In 1934, enveloped by a garden “teeming with roses,” we meet Irén and Blanka Elekes, Bálint Biró, and Henriette Held, the beloved children of three neighboring families who live on the titular Katalin Street. The four of them are inseparable, like cousins, apart from the fact that each of the girls, at one time or another, has loved Bálint, the major’s son. “Bálint was the sort of person who inspired that response from others without in the least intending to,” Irén observes. “You simply had to love him.” In Irén’s case, her unuttered desires are requited when she and Bálint are engaged a decade later. As soon as their celebration begins, though, it’s disrupted by a phone call and eclipsed by the reality of war; Henriette’s Jewish parents have been caught and deported and their home swiftly commandeered by authorities. But it’s the tragic death of 16-year-old Henriette, who's been hidden by the major and the Elekes family, that ultimately tears these families apart. By the time they’re eventually married, Bálint, who adored Henriette like his own sister, and Irén, who both loved and loathed the girl, are strangers, having long ago buried the happiness they once knew. Beset by a deep malaise from the aftershock of war, the Elekes family, forced from their home and dispossessed in every sense, live as ghosts, the past forever looping in their consciousnesses, “locked in the same hopeless quest to recover [Katalin Street].” And Henriette, a spectral presence hovering throughout the novel, acts as an onlooker, bearing witness to the emotional decay brought on by the relentless forces of age and memory.

A visceral, sweeping depiction of life in the shuddering wake of wartime.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-68137-152-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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