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An elegant meditation on what might have been.

Continuing his explorations of the meeting of East and West, French novelist Énard (Compass, 2017) imagines a lost episode in the life of Michelangelo Buonarroti.

History tells us that the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid, having rejected a design by Leonardo da Vinci to join Europe to Asia by a bridge over the Golden Horn, approached Michelangelo with the same project. History adds that Michelangelo said no. But what if the answer, Énard posits, had been yes, as newly discovered documents suggest? Michelangelo, after all, had been having endless troubles getting paid by Julius II, “the warlike, authoritarian pope who has treated him so poorly.” The temptation to slip across the border of the Papal States into Florence and thence to Venice and Constantinople would have been great, especially because the sultan knew just how to appeal to him by contrasting him to Leonardo: “You will surpass him in glory if you accept, for you will succeed where he has failed, and you will give the world a monument without equal….” That, and he’d quintuple his salary. Intrigue immediately ensues, for there are spies—of the pope, of Venice, of the sultan—everywhere, and where there are spies, there are lures and temptations. And then there’s Mesihi, the Kosovar Muslim who guides Michelangelo between two worlds and becomes more than a Virgil in the bargain, first taking Michelangelo to the former cathedral and now mosque of the Hagia Sophia, now devoted, as Michelangelo thinks, to “the one Dante sends to the fifth circle of Hell.” In his way, Mesihi is as great an artist as the master, a man who “loved men and women, women and men, sang the praises of his patron and the delights of spring, both sweet and full of despair at the same time.” Naturally, cultures and personalities come into collision, and all does not end well for Michelangelo, “afraid of love just as he’s afraid of Hell,” or, for that matter, for anyone in Michelangelo’s orbit.

An elegant meditation on what might have been.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2704-9

Page Count: 144

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

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. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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