While it’s sometimes verbose, this engrossing tale delivers plenty of 19th-century cultural details and a satisfying...

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OUT OF THE RABBIT HUTCH

A historical novel weaves a complicated web of interlocking relationships as it shows the gruesomeness of the Civil War and the bitterness of the South’s defeat.

In 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War, Asa Young was committed to a “state lunatic asylum” for “drawing objects of morbid representation” and never speaking. Four years later, he is taken in by Lt. Col. Jameson and his wife, Agnes, in the hope they can “help him get back his wits.” Asa was one of the soldiers Jameson had written Agnes about after the Siege of Petersburg. Now Asa is suffering from PTSD. A deep understanding develops between Flora, the couple’s 10-year-old daughter, and Asa, with the child parenting the man: “Don’t forget to wipe your feet on the mat.” Asa is the thread that connects, in one way or another, the many characters, lengthy subplots, and themes that make up the complex narrative. There is Asa’s father, Neville, who worked on a whaling ship and, through a variety of misadventures, wound up in Australia. He is rescued by Mallabal, an Indigenous Australian who eventually comes to America, where he again faces racial discrimination. Then there are the ex-Confederate Timpson brothers, Lucas and Dennet, “a pair of dog-hungry drifters,” who trigger the novel’s denouement. Through effective battle-scene flashbacks, readers live through Asa’s traumas: his horror at hearing “the pitiful cries” of the wounded horses and seeing the “many crimson tributaries springing from limbs, severed and punctured.” Avery’s (The Fortune Teller, 2018) prose is often wordy, but it creates vivid images. Here is Asa setting an animal free: “He stood before the fence and placed the rabbit by the hole folding its ears down and then nudged the head through. It resisted, so he pushed it again.” As the subplots unfold, the author deftly portrays the harshness of life on a whaling vessel, the destruction of aboriginal culture in Australia, the plight of blacks in post-Civil War America, and even the fight for women’s suffrage. The story’s conclusion is both unpredictable and rewarding.

While it’s sometimes verbose, this engrossing tale delivers plenty of 19th-century cultural details and a satisfying surprise ending.

Pub Date: May 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5439-6338-0

Page Count: 398

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2019

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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