A modest book with heroic pretentions likely to appeal most to the Sedona/Santa Fe set.

A POET OF THE INVISIBLE WORLD

What to make of a kid born with four ears? One thing’s for sure: he’s bound to listen.

Novelist/screenwriter Golding (Benjamin’s Gift, 1999, etc.) strains for significance and symbolic import with this yarn, a blend of fable and what Edward Said would surely call (and not as a compliment) orientalist fantasy, with The Other being strange and inscrutable but all-too-human for all that. With his four ears, “placed side by side, like pairs of matched seashells,” Nouri Ahmad Mohammad ibn Mahsoud al-Morad can’t help but be noticed for good and ill—and mostly for ill, since the superstitious inhabitants of his little village are naturally curious, and not in a complimentary way, about the kid. The hero has an unusual feature: check. The hero sets off on a heroic journey: check. The hero is misunderstood and feared: check. With a Joseph Campbell–worthy schematic, the kid heads off to the big city to find such fortunes as the djinns and deity will allow. Fortunately for the sage Nouri, he falls in with Sufis whose master sees in him the makings of a pretty cool dude. Followers with arcane knowledge: check, as Golding waxes encyclopedic: “Centered on the chanting of litanies and accompanied by the playing of music, the sema was deep at the heart of Sufi practice.” Sema-antics aside, Nouri undergoes all sorts of adventures in quest of—well, that’d be telling, but suffice it to say that there are fraught moments throughout (“the look on Vishpar’s face as the marauder ran him through was what remained in Nouri’s heart as they carried him away”). There’s a Life of Pi–ish tang to the whole enterprise, although, to his credit, Golding is the better writer, and he manages to avoid the worst of New Age treacliness. And, for whatever reason, there’s lots of good eating throughout, complete with a glossary of food terms. For what hero wants to go hungry?

A modest book with heroic pretentions likely to appeal most to the Sedona/Santa Fe set.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-07128-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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