The message is not subtle: Adoption is good, abortion should be a legal choice but is basically bad, men can be nice but are...

THE POSSIBILITY OF YOU

Separated by decades, three women face difficult choices about motherhood.

Redmond (Babes in Captivity, 2004, etc.) keeps her heroines’ stories separate for most of the novel, but readers will decipher the heavy-handed connections early on. Present-day Cait, now in her 30s, has been raised lovingly by her adoptive parents, middle-class, suburban Catholics. When she finds herself pregnant and in love with a fellow journalist she’s met while searching for a missing child—unbelievably sensitive Martin is married but his wife is a shrew and may be cheating on him too—she decides she must find her birth mother. In 1976 California, 19-year-old Billie is orphaned when her drugged-out father dies, but she finds letters that lead her to her wealthy grandmother Maude, a selfish but charming old woman dependent on her housekeeper Bridget. Billie moves into Maude’s Manhattan mansion as Maude's heir. She also begins to sleep with her African-American bisexual best friend Jupe. When she gets pregnant, medical student Jupe says he’s not ready to have a baby. Billie gives birth, suffers postpartum depression, is disowned by racist Maude and leaves the baby girl with Bridget. In 1916, Bridget is a newly arrived Irish nanny caring for Maude’s first son. A former Ziegfeld girl now married to a wealthy Jewish candy manufacturer, Maude runs in a suffragette circle and pays little attention to her baby, but when he dies suddenly she is distraught. Bridget is her main support, but Bridget is being wooed by George, Maude’s former chauffeur. Maude fires Bridget when she becomes pregnant and marries George. After his death in World War I, Bridget and her son are penniless. Maude takes her back on the condition that she can raise Bridget’s son as her own. By the time modern Cait has her baby, she is in the bosom of her family, genetic and adoptive. 

The message is not subtle: Adoption is good, abortion should be a legal choice but is basically bad, men can be nice but are basically irrelevant. 

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-1642-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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Rather than settle for a coming-of-age or travails-of-immigrants story, Hosseini has folded them both into this searing...

THE KITE RUNNER

Here’s a real find: a striking debut from an Afghan now living in the US. His passionate story of betrayal and redemption is framed by Afghanistan’s tragic recent past.

Moving back and forth between Afghanistan and California, and spanning almost 40 years, the story begins in Afghanistan in the tranquil 1960s. Our protagonist Amir is a child in Kabul. The most important people in his life are Baba and Hassan. Father Baba is a wealthy Pashtun merchant, a larger-than-life figure, fretting over his bookish weakling of a son (the mother died giving birth); Hassan is his sweet-natured playmate, son of their servant Ali and a Hazara. Pashtuns have always dominated and ridiculed Hazaras, so Amir can’t help teasing Hassan, even though the Hazara staunchly defends him against neighborhood bullies like the “sociopath” Assef. The day, in 1975, when 12-year-old Amir wins the annual kite-fighting tournament is the best and worst of his young life. He bonds with Baba at last but deserts Hassan when the latter is raped by Assef. And it gets worse. With the still-loyal Hassan a constant reminder of his guilt, Amir makes life impossible for him and Ali, ultimately forcing them to leave town. Fast forward to the Russian occupation, flight to America, life in the Afghan exile community in the Bay Area. Amir becomes a writer and marries a beautiful Afghan; Baba dies of cancer. Then, in 2001, the past comes roaring back. Rahim, Baba’s old business partner who knows all about Amir’s transgressions, calls from Pakistan. Hassan has been executed by the Taliban; his son, Sohrab, must be rescued. Will Amir wipe the slate clean? So he returns to the hell of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and reclaims Sohrab from a Taliban leader (none other than Assef) after a terrifying showdown. Amir brings the traumatized child back to California and a bittersweet ending.

Rather than settle for a coming-of-age or travails-of-immigrants story, Hosseini has folded them both into this searing spectacle of hard-won personal salvation. All this, and a rich slice of Afghan culture too: irresistible.

Pub Date: June 2, 2003

ISBN: 1-57322-245-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

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