Disappointing and often just kind of gross.

LITTLE NOTHING

A postmodern fable by the award-winning author of Mary Coin (2013) and The God of War (2008).

A childless couple longs for a baby…. This desire launches a thousand fairy tales, including “Thumbelina,” which Silver slyly invokes at the beginning of her new novel. As the elderly Agáta Janacek struggles through labor, the midwife encourages her to think of a flower blooming—an echo of the tulip from which Hans Christian Andersen’s diminutive heroine emerges. But, just as childbirth is not the gentle opening of a flower, the baby Pavla is not a perfectly formed little sprite. She’s a dwarf, all big head and foreshortened limbs. These opening scenes reveal a lot about the story to come. First, that the author is using tropes from fairy tales and folklore in a realist mode. Second, that the novel's brand of realism relies heavily on graphic depictions of human bodies and their various products. There are pendulous breasts, flaccid penises, and Agáta’s pubis with its sparse graying hair. There’s also quite a bit of sweat, mucus, and ordure. Pavla, as befits a fairy-tale heroine, is beautiful—but only sometimes. As her story progresses, she will undergo several transformations, only some of which make sense. Of course a girl being raped might turn into a wolf. But why would a dwarf stretched on a rack turn into a girl with a beautiful body and a canine face? It might seem ridiculous to argue with fantasy, but fairy tales do have their own logic, and Silver doesn’t quite seem to grasp that internal consistency is a large part of the fairy tale’s appeal, nor does she seem to appreciate how fairy-tale heroes and heroines function. Because they are types rather than real people, they allow us to project our own desires upon them. Pavla is real enough to forestall this operation but not real enough to be satisfying.

Disappointing and often just kind of gross.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16792-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Blue Rider Press

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

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THE NIGHT WATCHMAN

In this unhurried, kaleidoscopic story, the efforts of Native Americans to save their lands from being taken away by the U.S. government in the early 1950s come intimately, vividly to life.

Erdrich’s grandfather Patrick Gourneau was part of the first generation born on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. As the chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in the mid-1950s, he had to use all the political savvy he could muster to dissuade Utah Sen. Arthur V. Watkins (whom Erdrich calls a “pompous racist” in her afterword) from reneging on long-held treaties between Native Americans and the federal government. Erdrich's grandfather is the inspiration for her novel’s protagonist, Thomas Wazhushk, the night watchman of the title. He gets his last name from the muskrat, "the lowly, hardworking, water-loving rodent," and Thomas is a hard worker himself: In between his rounds at a local factory, at first uncertain he can really help his tribe, he organizes its members and writes letters to politicians, "these official men with their satisfied soft faces," opposing Watkins' efforts at "terminating" their reservation. Erdrich reveals Thomas' character at night when he's alone; still reliable and self-sacrificing, he becomes more human, like the night he locks himself out of the factory, almost freezes to death, and encounters a vision of beings, "filmy and brightly indistinct," descending from the stars, including Jesus Christ, who "looked just like the others." Patrice Paranteau is Thomas' niece, and she’s saddled with a raging alcoholic father and financial responsibility for her mother and brother. Her sister, Vera, deserts the reservation for Minneapolis; in the novel’s most suspenseful episode, Patrice boldly leaves home for the first time to find her sister, although all signs point to a bad outcome for Vera. Patrice grows up quickly as she navigates the city’s underbelly. Although the stakes for the residents of Turtle Mountain will be apocalyptic if their tribe is terminated, the novel is more an affectionate sketchbook of the personalities living at Turtle Mountain than a tightly plotted arc that moves from initial desperation to political triumph. Thomas’ boyhood friend Roderick returns as a ghost who troubles Thomas in his night rounds, for example; Patrice sleeps close to a bear and is vastly changed; two young men battle for Patrice’s heart.

A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-267118-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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