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

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 deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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