A bleak but affecting portrait of loss by a master writer (Amerika, 2001, etc.) come fully into his own. (N.B.: This is...

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THE IN-BETWEEN WORLD OF VIKRAM LALL

Born and raised in East Africa, Indian Vassanji describes in spare but resonant prose the depressing realities of post-colonial Africa in telling the story of a man whose life is blighted by the times.

Having fled Kenya and now living in Canada, where he’s been accused of bribery, Vikram poignantly recalls the past and his childhood home, even though as an Indian he was never fully accepted by Africans. In 1953, Vikram is an eight-year-old living contentedly with his family in a Kenyan village where his father runs a general store. Vikram, like his younger sister Deepa, is a third-generation African-Indian—their grandfather came from India to build the railroad in the late 1800s—and Kenya indeed is home. The siblings are close friends of the white Bruce children, as well as of Kikuyu Njoroge, whom Vikram’s mother calls her son. But the times are not propitious for interracial harmony: the famous “winds of change” are blowing through Africa, promising an end to British rule. The Mau Mau, the notorious Kikuya freedom fighters, brutally kill the entire Bruce family, and when Njoroge’s grandfather is arrested as a suspect, Njoroge has to go away to school. With Independence, the Lalls move to Nairobi, where, initially, they prosper. Like Njoroge, whom he meets up with again, Vikram admires President Kenyatta, but their early optimism sours as politicians demand bribes and Indians are increasingly threatened by violence unless they hand over their businesses. Njoroge, in love with Deepa, who loves him in return even though her family insists she marry an Indian, is soon involved in dangerous opposition politics. Though Vikram flourishes, it’s at a price—friends are murdered, families emigrate, and no one can be trusted. Yet the cost of exile is even higher. His past thus revisited, Vikram decides now to clear his name, even if so doing endangers his life.

A bleak but affecting portrait of loss by a master writer (Amerika, 2001, etc.) come fully into his own. (N.B.: This is Vassanji’s fifth novel and second Giller Prize winner.)

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2004

ISBN: 1-4000-4216-X

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2004

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

DEAR EDWARD

A 12-year-old boy is the sole survivor of a plane crash—a study in before and after.

Edward Adler is moving to California with his adored older brother, Jordan, and their parents: Mom is a scriptwriter for television, Dad is a mathematician who is home schooling his sons. They will get no further than Colorado, where the plane goes down. Napolitano’s (A Good Hard Look, 2011, etc.) novel twins the narrative of the flight from takeoff to impact with the story of Edward’s life over the next six years. Taken in by his mother’s sister and her husband, a childless couple in New Jersey, Edward’s misery is constant and almost impermeable. Unable to bear sleeping in the never-used nursery his aunt and uncle have hastily appointed to serve as his bedroom, he ends up bunking next door, where there's a kid his age, a girl named Shay. This friendship becomes the single strand connecting him to the world of the living. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, we meet all the doomed airplane passengers, explore their backstories, and learn about their hopes and plans, every single one of which is minutes from obliteration. For some readers, Napolitano’s premise will be too dark to bear, underlining our terrible vulnerability to random events and our inability to protect ourselves or our children from the worst-case scenario while also imagining in exhaustive detail the bleak experience of survival. The people around Edward have no idea how to deal with him; his aunt and uncle try their best to protect him from the horrors of his instant celebrity as Miracle Boy. As one might expect, there is a ray of light for Edward at the end of the tunnel, and for hardier readers this will make Napolitano’s novel a story of hope.

Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-5478-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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