Appealing stories bear witness to a dark reality.


Autobiographical fiction portrays life in Soviet Russia.

Thirty years after the publication of Every Hunter Wants To Know, Iossel, who was born in 1955 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1986, offers another engaging collection of stories evoking his Soviet childhood and young adulthood. Jewish identity is a recurring theme: In “Necessary Evil,” parents surprise their 9-year-old son by telling him that he is a Jew. Encouraging him to “embrace it unreservedly, because it defines by far the most important part of you,” they assure him that Jews are “covert agents” to promote good in the world. Yet the news is unsettling for a child who sees blatant anti-Semitism everywhere. What if all the Soviet people who deride Jews are right? he wonders. Besides, as the narrator of “The Night We Were Told Brezhnev Was Dead” reflects: “Hardly any one of us knew the first thing about Jewish history or a single word of the Jewish language, which was called Hebrew and was banned from private study.” As a Jew, he feels especially vulnerable to the state’s repression: “All of us Soviet people existed largely at the mercy of the KGB”—especially Jews. Yet the Soviet Union insisted it was a “society of ultimate justice,” in contrast to America, “a dark, dangerous, ominously rumbling, potentially deadly word.” America was to be hated, and “ordinary oppressed, exploited, proletarian Americans” were to be pitied. While many stories illuminate the absurdity of Soviet society, Iossel conveys the brutal oppression of the surveillance state most intensely, and hauntingly, in the title story: an internal monologue by a wife fearing that agents have come to arrest her husband in the middle of the night. “Anyone can be disappeared at any time,” she thinks, knowing that she will be taken soon after, their orphaned children will be indoctrinated to hate them, and no one will care.

Appealing stories bear witness to a dark reality.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-942658-56-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.


An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.


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: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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