A fine adult love story—not in the prurient sense, but in the sense of lovers elevated from smittenness to all the grown-up...

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IN SUNLIGHT AND IN SHADOW

Elegant, elegiac novel of life in postwar America, at once realistic and aspirational, by the ever-accomplished Helprin (A Soldier of the Great War, 1991, etc.). 

Harry Copeland is a sturdy-looking man, so much so that a wise aunt likens him to a young Clark Gable, to which he replies, “For Chrissakes, Elaine, when he was young, without the mustache, Clark Gable looked like a mouse.” There’s nothing mousy about Harry, though he does share Gable’s burden of tragedy. But that is far from his mind when he lays eyes on Catherine Thomas Hale on a New York ferry and is stopped in his tracks. He pursues her, and in time he wins her over, only to find that Catherine harbors many secrets—and that her family harbors more than a few hidden prejudices and is not at all happy when Harry comes a-courting in the place of Catherine’s longtime beau. The lovers' story is appropriately tangled and star-crossed, for if Catherine has a wagonload of baggage, Harry, a former paratrooper, hasn’t quite forgotten the horrors of the war in Europe. The story crosses continents and is suffused with the California dream, but Helprin is really most at home in New York, which he describes with the affection and beauty that Woody Allen invested in his film Manhattan. There are other celebrations—of love, of books and learning—and other regrets, as when Harry finds himself “plundered by alcohol” and on the verge of doing things he will rue. Helprin charges the story with beautiful passages: “More like gentle lamps than stars, their blinking was not cold and quick like the disinterested stars of winter, but slow and seductive, as if they were speaking in a code that all mankind understood perfectly well even if it did not know that such a language existed.”

A fine adult love story—not in the prurient sense, but in the sense of lovers elevated from smittenness to all the grown-up problems that a relationship can bring.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-81923-5

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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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