A shrewdly written and intellectually arousing tale.

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POACHERS

SEEKING A NEW LIFE IN TANZANIA

An American diplomat in Tanzania during the Cold War confronts her moral reservations about big-game poaching in this historical novel. 

Diana Forrest returns to diplomatic work after an extended hiatus. She left her previous post to marry a “hot shot foreign correspondent,” but the relationship ultimately failed. She accepts a new job as a foreign service officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania, which, during this era, amounts to engaging in a battle with Soviet operatives to disseminate successful political narratives among the locals. But her attention is also gripped by the feral world of safaris and of a savanna full of volatile predators—it’s a world that both terrifies and excites her and one that novelist Sharpe (Undertow, 2014, etc.) stirringly depicts. Andrew, her subordinate at work, is a veteran tour guide and gives Diana her first experience with the Tanzanian wild. But he’s also an enthusiastic hunter, and she wrestles with her misgivings about the recreational slaughter of animals. At one point, she reports her moral dilemma to a friend when Andrew asks her to drive on one of his expeditions: “I don’t know what to do. My conscience resists. Yet, driving or not, I’ll be eating the bush meat, so what’s the difference?” It turns out that big-game poaching, especially for ivory to be sold on the black market, is ubiquitous, and she suspects that Andrew may be involved in a smuggling operation. The situation becomes even more complicated as a romantic relationship flowers between them.  Sharpe deftly braids together two interlocking storylines that deal, respectively, with the ungovernable Tanzanian bush and the tangled world of political bureaucracy. The author writes from a deep reserve of personal experience—like the book’s protagonist, she was an foreign service officer in Tanzania—and that knowledge endows the narrative with a sense of authenticity. The diplomatic storyline provides readers with an engrossing look into the world of strategic misinformation; for example, the Soviets are said to have once spread propaganda that the AIDS virus was created in a laboratory in Maryland. Also, Sharpe’s buoyant, cheeky prose memorably captures Diana’s illicit relationship with Andrew, who’s not only a colleague, but a married man: “We managed like lovers in a French farce, exercising extreme vigilance to avoid comical hallway encounters with people we knew—the complication being that, between us, we knew most every one at the conference.” Diana is revealed as an intriguing mix of contradictions—a savvy political operative who’s also romantic and who’s fiercely independent but achingly lonely. Diana is also clearly taken by Andrew; at one point, she fretfully wonders if she’s “become a Cold-War propagandist in bed with petty poachers.” The story’s most tantalizing element is its moral aspect, as it interrogates the defensibility of hunting amoral beasts with great nuance without a hint of dogmatic proselytizing. Overall, this is a thoughtful, provocative tale that, in the spirit of Iris Murdoch’s work, raises urgent questions while also resisting facile answers. 

A shrewdly written and intellectually arousing tale. 

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63293-239-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Sunstone Press

Review Posted Online: May 8, 2019

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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