Despite some clunky political commentary, a gripping meditation on the nature of fear, silence, and survival.

ABAHN SABANA DAVID

In English for the first time, a 1970 French novel from prolific experimentalist Duras (The Lover, 1984, etc.)

In this brief novel the action is staged like an existentialist thriller, the prose reads like surreal noir, and the crime taking place is genocide. On a cold night in a town called Staadt (identified later as Prague), a Jewish man named Abahn is visited at home by a woman, Sabana, a stonemason, David, and another Jewish man also named Abahn. David has a gun, and Sabana tells the second Abahn that the first Abahn, whom she calls “the Jew,” will die at daybreak thanks to Gringo, the local leader of “the Party.” They spend the night deep in debate about their roles and motivations in the plot to kill Abahn the Jew. As dogs howl outside, the characters sometimes go deaf and blind, speaking while half-asleep about gas chambers, Soviet concentration camps, “the field of death,” and, awkwardly, “the sliding scale of the minimum wage.” Dialogue gets repeated back and forth as if the group is questioning each word’s meaning; their movements are logged meticulously, adding great tension to some scenes, absurdity to others, and translator Ali’s deft touch rendering this unreal environment's slippery fictive power is laudable. Duras positions the book’s moral center as a question of self-awareness, forcing Sabana and David to see how outside forces affect their smallest actions and thoughts: as the second Abahn says to Sabana, “I say if it’s David who pulls the trigger, it’s still Gringo who has killed him.” As gunfire erupts late in the book, David and Sabana must face the temptation to absolve themselves from blame by letting the faceless state take responsibility for their parts in the violence.

Despite some clunky political commentary, a gripping meditation on the nature of fear, silence, and survival.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-940953-36-6

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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