A nuanced study of the power plays and violence sparked by colonialism.


A cross-racial romance complicates tensions in 19th-century colonial Mozambique.

The second novel in this trilogy (following Woman of the Ashes, 2018) is set in 1895 amid territorial fighting among Portuguese colonists, the powerful native leader Ngungunyane, and the VaChopi, a rival tribe. But its heart is the affair between Imani, a young VaChopi woman, and Portuguese Sgt. Germano de Melo. As the story opens, Imani’s family is trying to ferry an injured Germano to safety, finding refuge in a church whose priest is ostensibly Catholic but who has fallen for a native healer and adapted his faith to match. (“Here, even Christ would have thrown in the towel,” he proclaims.) Couto’s narrative is designed to highlight how opposing sensibilities merge and repel each other; the novel alternates between Imani’s narration and letters from Germano and other Portuguese military leaders. Germano needs to decide whether his love for Imani is worth sacrificing his military position; meanwhile, Imani is trying to balance whether she can keep her relationship with Germano while also, at her father’s insistence, being part of a peace offering with Ngungunyane. It’s best to start with Woman of the Ashes to feel better grounded in this dynamic but also because Couto’s writing has a richer, more allegorical feel there; Imani’s voice in the first novel has a dreamlike cast, the better to capture the disorientation and fear that marks her tribe’s precarious position; here the prose is more flatly descriptive. Still, the second novel offers a helpful summary of the first and provides a stand-alone story with its own intrigues, as battles between the colonists and colonized intensify, and a late-breaking plot twist sets up the concluding novel on both symbolic and plot levels.

A nuanced study of the power plays and violence sparked by colonialism.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-25689-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

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What happens when a midlist author steals a manuscript and publishes it as her own?

June Hayward and Athena Liu went to Yale together, moved to D.C. after graduation, and are both writers, but the similarities end there. While June has had little success since publication and is struggling to write her second novel, Athena has become a darling of the publishing industry, much to June’s frustration. When Athena suddenly dies, June, almost accidentally, walks off with her latest manuscript, a novel about the World War I Chinese Labour Corps. June edits the novel and passes it off as her own, and no one seems the wiser, but once the novel becomes a smash success, cracks begin to form. When June faces social media accusations and staggering writer’s block, she can’t shake the feeling that someone knows the truth about what she’s done. This satirical take on racism and success in the publishing industry at times veers into the realm of the unbelievable, but, on the whole, witnessing June’s constant casual racism and flimsy justifications for her actions is somehow cathartic. Yes, publishing is like this; finally someone has written it out. At times, the novel feels so much like a social media feed that it’s impossible to stop reading—what new drama is waiting to unfold. and who will win out in the end? An incredibly meta novel, with commentary on everything from trade reviews to Twitter, the ultimate message is clear from the start, which can lead to a lack of nuance. Kuang, however, does manage to leave some questions unanswered: fodder, perhaps, for a new tweetstorm.

A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

Pub Date: May 16, 2023

ISBN: 9780063250833

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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