An affectionate evocation of lost youth and life’s passage by a seasoned storyteller.

READ REVIEW

THE COFFEEHOUSE

Nostalgic roman à clef by the Nobel Prize–winning Egyptian novelist and secularist.

As it opens, the characters of Mahfouz’s novel, first serialized in a Cairo newspaper in 1988, are young boys who meet in 1915 in elementary school and who, years later, “will all be buried in the Bab al-Nasr Cemetery.” Five at the core of the group “have never left each other” while others will move away, fall out of touch. Some are rich; some aspire to wealth and influence in a time when young Egyptians are increasingly insistent on independence from Britain. A couple are faithful observers of Islam—one is Ismail, a boy who “never stopped imagining God in a majestic form whose grandeur had no limit”—while others are “without any sort of religion at all.” Yet all harbor the same enthusiasms, eagerly watching Tom Mix cowboy movies at the local movie parlor, fighting the neighborhood bullies and getting trounced in the bargain. As they grow into adolescence, the boys find a second home in a coffeehouse far enough away from their homes that they won’t be seen smoking and whiling away the hours playing dominoes and talking politics, as they will do for years to come even as they come of age, marry, struggle, and try to cope with onrushing events to greater or lesser degrees of success: “Hamada al-Halawani’s life continued between the palace, the houseboat, and Khan al-Khalili, while he added the Allies and the Axis to his vacillation between schools of thought,” writes Mahfouz of one at the outbreak of World War II. Covering a broad sweep of nearly a century of history, Mahfouz’s last novella is a single narrative, not broken into chapters but flowing like the Nile and time itself. Writes the translator in a welcome afterword, while Mahfouz and his generation are gone, the coffeehouse still stands, full of “old men from the surrounding neighborhood playing dominoes and drinking tea long into the evening.”

An affectionate evocation of lost youth and life’s passage by a seasoned storyteller.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-977-416-999-1

Page Count: 122

Publisher: American Univ. in Cairo

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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