History writ large, bold, vivid, and real: mesmerizing and authentic.

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THE BATTLE

Winner of the Prix Goncourt and Grand Prix Roman de l’ Académie Française, Rambaud’s first novel completes a job Balzac long intended to do but never did: retelling Napoleon’s 1809 battle with, and defeat at the hands of, the Austrians in a fight visible from Vienna’s walls and known now as Aspern-Essling for the villages of those names.

Like war stories from the Iliad to War and Peace, this one again is conventional of plot as it follows three nights and two days in the lives of assorted figures—of high station and low—who either fight in the battle or are swept somehow into its huge vortex (as, one may add, readers will be too). Here are Napoleon himself; Major General Berthier, his right-hand man; the semi-piratic but courageous Masséna, duke of Rivoli; the prim and dandyish Edmonde de Périgord; and the engaging, battle-wearied, near-despairing Marshall Lannes. Toward the more middle rank of society are Colonel Louis-François Lejeune, artist, aide, officer, and perhaps central character; his inamorata Anna Krauss, denizen of imperial Vienna, who will run off with another; and Lejeune’s friend, the also-smitten Henri Beyle, “who had not yet started calling himself Stendhal.” As well, there are the plain soldiers—like Pacotte, or the young Vincent Paradis, or the toughened fighter Fayolle, raised in the slums of Paris—who will fight and, in any number of ghastly ways, die. For it’s the battle itself, enormous, dreadful, like some huge and perverted force of nature beyond the control of any man—even of the Emperor—that is the true determiner of all things here, compelling men to rush into death, undergo sufferings and atrocities far beyond the credible, and then, if need be, do it again. The horrors—including those of the amputation-obsessed field surgeons—will fade no time soon, as neither, credit to Rambaud’s great learning, will the detailed feel, sense, and pulse of politics and history that underlie the whole.

History writ large, bold, vivid, and real: mesmerizing and authentic.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-8021-1662-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

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THE CITY WE BECAME

This extremely urban fantasy, a love/hate song to and rallying cry for the author’s home of New York, expands her story “The City, Born Great” (from How Long ’Til Black Future Month, 2018).

When a great city reaches the point when it's ready to come to life, it chooses a human avatar, who guides the city through its birthing and contends with an extradimensional Enemy who seeks to strike at this vulnerable moment. Now, it is New York City’s time to be born, but its avatar is too weakened by the battle to complete the process. So each of the individual boroughs instantiates its own avatar to continue the fight. Manhattan is a multiracial grad student new to the city with a secret violent past that he can no longer quite remember; Brooklyn is an African American rap star–turned–lawyer and city councilwoman; Queens is an Indian math whiz here on a visa; the Bronx is a tough Lenape woman who runs a nonprofit art center; and Staten Island is a frightened and insular Irish American woman who wants nothing to do with the other four. Can these boroughs successfully awaken and heal their primary avatar and repel the invading white tentacles of the Enemy? The novel is a bold calling out of the racial tensions dividing not only New York City, but the U.S. as a whole; it underscores that people of color are an integral part of the city’s tapestry even if some white people prefer to treat them as interlopers. It's no accident that the only white avatar is the racist woman representing Staten Island, nor that the Enemy appears as a Woman in White who employs the forces of racism and gentrification in her invasion; her true self is openly inspired by the tropes of the xenophobic author H.P. Lovecraft. Although the story is a fantasy, many aspects of the plot draw on contemporary incidents. In the real world, white people don’t need a nudge from an eldritch abomination to call down a violent police reaction on people of color innocently conducting their daily lives, and just as in the book, third parties are fraudulently transferring property deeds from African American homeowners in Brooklyn, and gentrification forces out the people who made the neighborhood attractive in the first place. In the face of these behaviors, whataboutism, #BothSides, and #NotAllWhitePeople are feeble arguments.

Fierce, poetic, uncompromising.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-50984-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Orbit

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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