THE TREE OF THE SEVENTH HEAVEN

Originally published in Brazil, where it won a prestigious literary prize in 1989, this quirky first novel relates the saga of a Lebanese immigrant family, a tale as mysterious as the jungle that surrounds their home in Manaus, capital of the Amazon province. Matriarch Emilie's death is the catalyst for a low-key outpouring of memory and confession by relatives and friends whose voices often seem interchangeable. The narrators include a young girl who was raised from infancy as one of the family; Emilie's favorite son, Uncle Hakim; Dorner, a German photographer; and Hindie, an old friend. Cumulatively, their stories suggest but never define the truth about Emilie and her turbulent kin. She was a woman ``who suffered the death of loved ones and the sorrows of the whole family, and still managed to make each night a festival of pleasure that infected all the rooms.'' A devout Christian, she ran away to a Beirut convent when her parents decided to emigrate to Manaus, but her beloved brother Emir threatened to shoot himself if she did not come with them. Although the family prospers in Brazil, Emir, weighed down by secret sorrows, soon commits suicide by jumping in a tributary of the Amazon. Shortly after his death, Emilie marries a devout Moslem merchant, also a Lebanese immigrant; they formed a couple, Uncle Hakim recalls, ``extravagant both in disagreement and love.'' Their only daughter has an illegitimate mute child who is killed in an accident, and two of their sons are uncouth, greedy louts who may be responsible for Emilie's murder. People mysteriously appear and disappear in a narrative that remains opaque to the end. Atmosphere and ambience are everything here, plot merely secondary to the lyrical evocation of a particular place, person, and period. An interesting debut.

Pub Date: April 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-689-12165-2

Page Count: 210

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1994

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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