Bold, original, and uneven.

READ REVIEW

THE SWEETEST FRUITS

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2020

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged White mom and her Black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a Black boy hoping to go with a White girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more