Bold, original, and uneven.



The author of Bitter in the Mouth (2010) and The Book of Salt (2003) imagines the extraordinary lives of three women who loved an extraordinary man.

Lafcadio Hearn is best remembered offering Anglophone readers some of their first glimpses of Japan after that country opened to Western travelers. But his life began in 1850 on an island that would later become part of Greece, and he had a sojourn in the United States before he journeyed to Japan. Hearn is the central figure in Truong’s latest novel, but he is present as an absence. To the extent that this is the story of his life, it is that story as witnessed by his mother and his two wives. Rosa, his mother, is sharing her tale after her son has been taken in by his father’s Anglo Irish family. It is her hope that he will one day want to know about her. Alethea is his first wife. Formerly enslaved, she meets Hearn while cooking in a Cincinnati boardinghouse where he is staying. Truong creates distinct, engaging voices for these women. Rosa’s story is permeated with a sense of loss, but she also shares some rather tart wisdom with the young woman who is writing down her words. Alethea’s tone is matter-of-fact and occasionally confrontational. The racial barriers that made her marriage to Hearn a scandal also circumscribe the dynamic between her and the journalist asking for information about her husband. Setsu is the daughter of a samurai, Hearn’s second wife, and the mother of his children. Like Alethea, she is telling her story after Hearn’s death. Truong gives Setsu her own style, too, one that is spare, elliptical, and personal without being obviously intimate. This creates a distance between novel and reader that is widened by the fact that Setsu is speaking not to a scribe unfamiliar with her story but rather to her dead husband. In order to impart important details to the reader, Truong has to force Setsu to tell Hearn things he already knows. Some readers will be unperturbed. Others may find their willingness to suspend disbelief tested.

Bold, original, and uneven.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2101-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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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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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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