Exciting and accomplished fiction. One looks forward to further translation of Rivas’s work.



This internationally acclaimed 1998 novel—the first of its Galician author’s to appear in English—is an elegantly composed mosaic portrayal of the human cost of the Spanish Civil War.

The story begins many years afterward with a journalist’s visit to interview Dr. Daniel Da Barca, a “revolutionary grandfather” hero of the Republican resistance to (fascist) Falangist tyranny, who has returned to Spain after a long exile in Mexico following his escape from prison. The journalist’s story is joined by other voices remembering—the primary one being that of Falangist stooge and former prison guard Herbal (who’s sharing his memories with a sympathetic prostitute at the whorehouse where he’s now employed as a handyman). Herbal is tormented by accusatory images from his past: specifically, his reluctant murder (under orders) of a (nameless) painter whose drawings had boldly exalted the figures of his fellow prisoners; more generally, the stoical Da Barca’s love for beautiful Marisa Mallo, the granddaughter of a Falangist collaborator—a relationship that endures as a rebuke to the captors who tried to break Da Barca’s spirit. Furthermore, the aforementioned painter’s “carpenter’s pencil,” which Herbal has appropriated, evokes the spirit of the painter, which now “visits” and speaks with the chastened Herbal. Rivas creates a dramatic and fascinating nexus in which these and other vividly realized characters (notably Mother Inane, a fervent nun who angrily debates religion with the freethinking Da Barca) are shown in an increasingly complex interrelationship, also captured in a series of stunningly evocative “pictures” (the dark shape of a wolf against a background of snow, a train full of tubercular prisoners, an “orchestra” of musicians who have no instruments). The result is a deeply moving depiction of heroism and survival, this despite an uneven translation whose frequent awkward phrasing (e.g., “in the jovial manner some of them had been doing”) suggests an overly literal blurring of the differences between Galician and English idiom.

Exciting and accomplished fiction. One looks forward to further translation of Rivas’s work.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-58567-145-2

Page Count: 166

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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