Occasionally leans on royal spectacle, but this approach turns out to be quite fitting for such a lavish historical figure...




A fictional retelling of the rise to power of Nzinga, queen of the Ndonga tribe of Angola, examines her defiance of the Portuguese invaders who sought to enslave her people.

In 16th-century Angola, Portugal wages war with the Ndongo tribe, seeking fortune through the subjugation of its land and people. Upon capturing the mother, wife, and two sisters of the tribe’s ruler—the Ngola Kilijua, Mbande—the Portuguese face not a wrathful king but his half sister, the beautiful and shrewd Nzinga, sent to negotiate both her family’s release and a peace treaty. Favored in her youth by her father, the previous Ngola, Nzinga developed the keen, strategic mind of a leader through her endless curiosity and brazen eavesdropping despite being unable to ascend the throne as a woman. Freeing her family, she returns home a hero for her diplomatic maneuvering, making no concessions, and leaving only a spy network behind. When her brother dies under mysterious circumstances, it is not long before her growing popularity allows her to crown herself Ngola, defying gender norms as she leads her nation in staving off the advances of the more technologically advanced Portuguese, despite their horses, armor, and gun powder. Famously, when not offered a chair in the court of Luanda, Nzinga sat upon the backs of her own subjects, and Howard (A Teacher in West Africa, 2016, etc.) injects the novel with this same level of showmanship, from the re-creation of that scene to the bloody, vivid carnage of battle. Traveling poets and storytellers called griots impart to the younger Nzinga, as well as the reader, the history and nuanced beliefs of the Ndongo people, a culture that while at times cruel—Nzinga herself lost her own son to her brother’s fears of interrupting the line of succession—still inspires loyalty and instills the importance of such occasional brutalities to the ascending queen. Thoroughly researched, the book includes a useful list of characters, some of the author’s own notes on the text, as well as some further reference materials for those who wish to know more about this unapproachable queen.

Occasionally leans on royal spectacle, but this approach turns out to be quite fitting for such a lavish historical figure who ruled in Africa.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-939423-40-5

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Jugum Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2016

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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