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MORNING SEA

A tragedy for our time.

As in her novel about Sarajevo (Twice Born, 2011), Mazzantini explores displacement and the effect of political chaos on individual lives in this extremely brief but intense story of Libyans seeking refuge in Italy and Italians seeking their lost past in Libya.

The novel divides into three loosely connected sections written in prose stripped down to the essentials. The Bedouin child Farid lives in an oasis town on the edge of the Sahara with his young mother, Jamila, and his father, Omar, who installs TV antennas for a living. Although the family is basically apolitical, Farid is vaguely aware that a war is occurring. Then Omar is killed by loyalist troops. Farid and Jamila quickly leave their home. Mother and son survive desert travel and make their way onto a boat they hope will take them to Italy. Farid’s great-grandfather traveled over the same sea years earlier and never returned, but Farid “looks at the sea and thinks of paradise.” His hopefulness is heartbreaking in its simplicity. Meanwhile, on the Italian coast, Vito is at loose ends after graduating from high school. His mother, Angelina, a divorced teacher, is an intimidating yet inspiring iconoclast shaped by her experience living the first 11 years of her life in Libya. In a history paper for school, Vito has written about the experience of the “Tripolini”—Italians banished from Libya when Gadhafi came to power. Vito’s grandparents, Angelina’s parents, arrived in Libya separately as children just before World War II. Born in 1959, Angelina considered Tripoli her only home until the family’s forced return to Italy. Angelina’s parents never readjusted to their native country; Angelina learned to fit in but remained nostalgic. When Gadhafi opened Libya to the West, Angelina visited but nothing was as she remembered. While Vito begins a collage from debris of capsized boats he has collected while walking on the beach, Farid and Jamali spend days at sea, helpless against the elements. 

A tragedy for our time.

Pub Date: April 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-78074-633-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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NORMAL PEOPLE

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. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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