A sometimes-picaresque, sometimes-somber, always memorable portrait of life in all its glorious complexity, no matter how...

THE TALE OF THE MISSING MAN

A modern classic of Hindi literature bows in English.

Parrots, metaphorical and literal, flit about this shaggy tale originally published in 1995 by the renowned Bhopal-born writer Ahtesham. “Zamir Ahmed Khan couldn’t understand how an entire species of bird could fall from grace for such a small act of ingratitude,” writes Ahtesham early on, noting the parrots’ failure to attach themselves to humans with doglike bonds of affection. Besides, Zamir notes, “to raise a parrot“ is proverbial for nursing a bad habit. Something is wrong with Zamir, but he doesn’t quite know what, and he never quite figures it out. The start of the story finds him calling on a gold-toothed Doctor Crocodile, who can find nothing wrong with him apart from a certain existential ennui. Not reassured, Zamir stumbles through life, encountering one parrot and one bad habit after another, while Ahtesham explores the lives of his fellow Muslims in ways that would sometimes seem to approach heresy: Here a woman returns from a hajj to Mecca glad to have survived the throng, saying scornfully, “Everyone goes through the motions, but no one has the brains to get the hidden meaning behind.” There Zamir, having learned to drink alcohol and commit indiscretions of the flesh, misunderstands the meaning behind a woman’s dark confession; “I didn’t tell you all this just to make you my secret keeper," she yells, throwing a volume of Freud at him as he makes good his escape. “Booze is as far as it goes!” he laments. “No gambling, no women. That’s the limit!” Alas, the limits are permeable, and if Zamir ends up no less discontented, he learns to appreciate simple things such as counting “flocks of birds as they flew from one end of the sky to the other,” even in the face of the disaster that put Bhopal on the map.

A sometimes-picaresque, sometimes-somber, always memorable portrait of life in all its glorious complexity, no matter how wearying.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8101-3758-5

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Northwestern Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

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

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

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

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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