As deceptively diffuse as it is meticulously observed, Ginzburg’s novel is a gem.


In the shadow of World War II, a young couple explores their feelings for one another.

In this short but very affecting novel, originally published in English in 1963, characters speak of trivialities. “What a fine head of hair he has, at that age!” Elsa’s mother tells her as, walking home, they pass a neighbor. “Did you notice how ugly the dog has become?” Neither Elsa’s mother nor anyone else in their small Italian village knows that Elsa has fallen in love with Tommasino, the youngest child of Balotta, the old factory owner. The book takes a looser structure than Ginzburg’s others. Elsa and Tommasino bookend the story with their affair, but the middle is taken up by an account of Tommasino’s siblings and their spouses: Purillo, the adopted cousin who takes over their father’s factory; long-faced Gemmina; dreamy Vincenzino; and Mario, who marries Xenia, a Russian who speaks French but no Italian and so cannot converse with anyone in the village. What all these lives have to do with one another doesn’t become clear until the end. What is clear is that there is a darker current running beneath all the trivialities. During the war, Purillo sympathized with the fascists, an affectation for which the others mocked him. Nebbia, a friend, was killed behind the house. “I have the feeling,” Tommasino tells Elsa near the end, “that they have already lived enough, those others before me; that they have already consumed all the reserves, all the vitality that there was for us….Nothing was left over for me.” Rarely does Ginzburg directly address politics—fascism, in particular—but its shadow hangs over the book just like it hangs over the characters. The result is profound and profoundly moving.

As deceptively diffuse as it is meticulously observed, Ginzburg’s novel is a gem.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8112-3100-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.


The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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


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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