Falls short as a moving novel, but it’s enough to satisfy a beginner curious about northern India.

TALES FROM THE HIMALAYAS

Packed with illuminating history, this fictional travelogue carefully details a colorful family vacation across northern India.

Young Ooma is 9 years old when her extended family, spanning three generations, meets for a long bus tour of northern India. For a trip across their native land, their personal experiences on the monumental journey are only briefly accessed, without any real emotional portraiture. Each chapter is devoted to a plethora of attractions and historical monuments—the Taj Mahal, the Palace of Winds, Qutab Minar’s mosque, the holy river Ganga and the Himalayas—but descriptions are given at face value; aside from a few clichéd exclamations, there’s little elaboration or imagery of the breathtaking sights. Of the large family, the only one we consistently see is Ooma’s willful, shutter-happy father, who, with his stubborn attitude, creates the majority of the trip’s hijinks. However, young Ooma’s narration rarely achieves the charm or wit that a child’s perspective could bring to such a tale. Anecdotes add color to the family’s journey: A rickshaw driver gets them lost late at night in Delhi; Ooma’s father is chastised by spiritualists for photographing them in a religious procession; Grandfather serendipitously encounters a long-lost friend in Hardwar. Yet many unique experiences drift into lost opportunities spanning a few sentences, even though the reader will crave an entire scene. Ooma and her family are a likable bunch of travel companions, though, and they’re sincere in their desire to see India’s many wonders. The book’s greatest accomplishment is the wide-lens though superficial perspective it offers of the dynamic region.

Falls short as a moving novel, but it’s enough to satisfy a beginner curious about northern India.

Pub Date: April 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-1450299787

Page Count: 224

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2016

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Not the kind of deep, resonant fiction we expect from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Olive Kitteridge.

LUCY BY THE SEA

Lucy Barton flees pandemic-stricken New York City for Maine with ex-husband William.

This is the third time Lucy has chronicled the events and emotions that shape her life, and the voice that was so fresh and specific in My Name Is Lucy Barton (2016), already sounding rather tired in Oh, William! (2021), is positively worn out here. Fatigue and disorientation are natural responses to a cataclysmic upheaval like the coronavirus, but unfortunately, it’s Strout’s imagination that seems exhausted in this meandering tale, which follows Lucy and William to Maine, relates their experiences there in haphazard fashion, and closes with their return to New York. Within this broad story arc, Lucy’s narration rambles from topic to topic: her newfound closeness with William; his unfaithfulness when they were married; their two daughters’ marital and health issues; her growing friendship with Bob Burgess; the surprise reappearance of William’s half sister, Lois; and memories of Lucy’s impoverished childhood, troubled relations with her parents, and ongoing difficulties with her sister, Vicky. To readers of Strout’s previous books, it’s all unduly familiar, indeed stale, an impression reinforced when the author takes a searing emotional turning point from The Burgess Boys (2013) and a painful refusal of connection in Oh William! and recycles them as peripheral plot points. The novel’s early pages do nicely capture the sense of disbelief so many felt in the pandemic’s early days, but Lucy’s view from rural safety of the havoc wrought in New York feels superficial and possibly offensive. Strout’s characteristic acuity about complex human relationships returns in a final scene between Lucy and her daughters, but from a writer of such abundant gifts and past accomplishments, this has to be rated a disappointment.

Not the kind of deep, resonant fiction we expect from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Olive Kitteridge.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-44606-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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