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A BURNING

The novel’s brilliant individual vignettes far outshine a rather flimsy overarching plot.

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A polyphonic novel that sharply observes class and religious divisions in India.

Shaken by a terrorist attack that sets train cars ablaze and kills more than a hundred people, Jivan, a young Muslim woman living in the nearby Kolabagan slum, posts a careless comment lambasting the government on Facebook and is thrown in jail as a suspect for the attack. As her case becomes national news and the public is increasingly convinced of her guilt, Jivan works to prove her innocence by arranging clandestine conversations with a reporter. “Believe me when I say you must understand my childhood to know who I am, and why this is happening to me,” she tells him. It was a youth marked by poverty, humiliation, and violence, often at the hands of local officials: Policemen wielding bamboo rods demolished her family’s hut in a rural village, leaving her father with a debilitating injury, and the family was tricked into purchasing a plot in a dangerous slum. Meanwhile, as Jivan’s trial nears, two of her acquaintances become witnesses: Lovely, a neighbor who learned English from Jivan, takes acting classes and dreams of becoming a film star while PT Sir, the physical training teacher at Jivan’s old school, gets involved with the populist Jana Kalyan Party and performs a series of increasingly morally questionable acts to curry favor with its leader. Debut author Majumdar has a gift for capturing the frustrating arbitrariness of local government and conjures up scenes in just a few well-chosen images, like this lunch: “PT Sir looks at her, and her plate, where she has made a pile of fish bones, curved like miniature swords.” Lovely, a hijra—a trans woman who lives in a religious community with others like her—is, voicewise, a particular gem. “My chest is a man’s chest, and my breasts are made of rags. So what? Find me another woman in this whole city as truly woman as me.” But Jivan’s storyline feels a bit thin, seemingly purpose-built to make a point about the very real injustices of being poor and a member of a hated religious minority.

The novel’s brilliant individual vignettes far outshine a rather flimsy overarching plot.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65869-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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