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

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THE SWORD AND THE SPEAR

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: N/A

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 compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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