An impressive—and impressively massive—feat of imagination and translation.

THE GRAY HOUSE

Petrosyan’s award-winning debut novel, translated from Russian, is a vividly imagined tale of epic proportions.

The House, which sits overlooked on the outskirts of town, is a boarding school for disabled children and teenagers. Isolated from the Outsides, the residents of the House are enmeshed in a carefully constructed world of unspoken rules and thorny histories. The meandering narrative moves back and forth in time, alternating narrators and tenses, to paint an intricate portrait of a social order that appears ultimately dictated by an unknown force, understood by its inhabitants to be the House itself. When student deaths begin to pile up over the course of the narrative, readers can identify with newcomer Smoker as he tries to understand the mysteries of the House and the source of its power over its inhabitants. Petrosyan has created a painstakingly three-dimensional, fully inhabited world. Slowly but surely, the plot reveals itself through a gradual process of unraveling, leading readers down a sprawling rabbit hole of intrigue and mysteries, accompanied by a dizzying array of quirky denizens. Petrosyan’s prose is wildly imaginative and beautifully wrought, overflowing in Machkasov’s translation with rich sensory details that combine with an offbeat sense of humor to form a fully realized world. This dense, heady tale should be enjoyed by seasoned readers of literary fiction and magical realism. Although it is being marketed in the U.S. for teens, it will perhaps find its most natural audience among adult readers.

An impressive—and impressively massive—feat of imagination and translation. (Magical realism. 14-adult)

Pub Date: April 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5039-4281-3

Page Count: 808

Publisher: Amazon Crossing

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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