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NORTH OF DAWN

As one of the characters puts it, “Art is a humanizer,” and Farah’s insistence on isolating the humanity in even the most...

A Somali husband and wife living in Norway are pitched into chaos, acrimony, and upheaval after their son embraces radical Islam and dies as a suicide bomber.

As in Farah’s last novel, Hiding in Plain Sight (2014), an act of violence sets in motion a chain of events disrupting a family’s stable life. It is the spring of 2009, and Mugdi, a former Somali diplomat now living in Oslo with his wife, Gacalo, has found out that their estranged son, Dhaqaneh, who fled to their homeland as a jihadi, has blown himself up at the international airport there. Gacalo, upon recovering from her grief, reminds her husband of the promise he made: that they would welcome into their home their widowed daughter-in-law, Waliya, and her two young children from a previous marriage. Mugdi, more than his wife, is bracing for what could be an unsettling culture clash, and his apprehensions grow when he finds Waliya to be sullen, withdrawn, and monastic in adhering to her Islamic faith, demanding that her son, Naciim, and daughter, Saafi, rigidly follow her religious tenets. But both children are attracted by the freedoms their new homeland offers, especially Naciim, who almost from his arrival in Norway yearns to earn enough money to buy a lottery ticket. He also chafes at the many strict rules imposed by his mother, including her fierce opposition to his associating with non-Muslim school friends and their families. The anti-immigrant bigotry of Norwegian citizens looms over this family’s painful transition, exploding at one point with Anders Behring Breivik's 2011 mass slaughter of more than 70 people, including teens attending a multicultural youth camp. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the anti-Western intolerance of Waliya and some of her fellow refugees, which reaches a tipping point with Naciim after he is brutally whipped by an imam as “punishment” for “disrespect.” Between these two violent extremes, Mugdi’s besieged-but-steadfast equanimity, as well as the author’s, provides relatively safe haven from the prevailing tension and strife.

As one of the characters puts it, “Art is a humanizer,” and Farah’s insistence on isolating the humanity in even the most difficult characters is a beacon of hope against fear and loathing.

Pub Date: Dec. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1423-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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