Funny, fresh, and not afraid to draw blood, this is an unusual gem of a book.


A satire of American military power that skirts didacticism while skewering our nation's misadventures in the Middle East.

Hanif (Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, 2012, etc.) sets us down in an unidentified Middle Eastern country, where a darkly cynical American fighter pilot named Ellie has been sent on a possibly unethical bombing run by a mysterious institution called Central Command. Ellie—whose military training combined deadly firepower with cultural sensitivity lessons like "Eat and Drink with the Enemy"—bows to pressure from Col. Slatter to flatten a compound he insists is "a real bad place full of bad bad people. You can smell the evil from the skies." Ellie crash-lands on his way to the compound, though, and finds himself wandering the desert, desperate to survive. That bad, bad compound turns out to be a refugee camp for victims of the American war. Momo, a wisecracking teenager with delusional schemes of capitalist grandeur and a world-weary suspicion of everything around him, lives there with his grieving mother, feckless father, and brother, Ali. Momo is given to dark proclamations on the world's moral state. "How're you gonna keep your integrity in a place where thievery is not only accepted but also expected?" he asks early in the book. He tromps around the camp wearing an "I Heart NY" cap and drives a Jeep through the desert. By the time the novel opens, Ali, who was an informant giving bombing targets to the Americans, has gone to work at a nearby American military facility known simply as the Hangar—and never returns. Ever since he's disappeared, American bombings have ceased. Momo is determined to figure out what's behind Ali's disappearance, and when Ellie arrives at the camp at the same time as an American aid worker and academic nicknamed Lady Flowerbody, the boy hatches a plan to retrieve his brother. Amid all this, supernatural occurrences are happening in the desert beyond the compound. Momo's journey to get his brother back will take him into the heart of the American presence in his country—and that presence is not at all what he expects. Narrated in the first-person from multiple perspectives—Ellie's, Momo's, and even that of Momo's dog, Mutt—Hanif's novel maneuvers between compelling, hilarious voices with the fast pace of a slapstick comedy, albeit a comedy with teeth. In a surreal flourish, the book climaxes with a final act that is a little too frantic for its own good. Thankfully, by the time the ending arrives, we've gotten to spend quality time with Hanif's indelible characters.

Funny, fresh, and not afraid to draw blood, this is an unusual gem of a book.

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8021-4728-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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