A long, bumpy ride, though Wilmot’s rage and passion are palpable.

SEEING DOUBLE

The chaotic coups, counter-coups and underground revolutions of an oil-rich West African nation, related in roiling prose.

Wilmot’s debut, set in the mythical nation of Niagra, is a broad satire on both arrogant African dictators and American interlopers who’ve come to exploit the political instability and poverty of its people. General Daudu, the nation’s leader and chief tormenter, was trained at Fort Bragg, where he was so seduced by country music that he’s banned political Afropop singers like Fela Kuti and forced all stations to play the likes of Toby Keith and Lee Ann Womack. (He erected a statue of Elvis in the heart of the country as well.) But the American invasion isn’t just cultural: The likes of the Burton Holly Corporation and Green and Branch are eager to cut deals to drill—and control Niagra’s political fate—both before and after Daudu is removed from power in a bloodless “khaki revolution” led by a renegade army officer. Though there are plenty of comic swipes at U.S.-led globalization, Wilmot’s clearly written this story with his teeth clenched in anger: The book is partly dedicated to executed Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa, and Wilmot’s best-drawn characters are similarly concerned with human rights—and similarly victims of circumstance. Rabiu Nafiu, the son of a viciously punitive judge, is defiantly outspoken in a host of underground newspapers; Bob Marley, a stunningly talented young artist, is also tragically buffeted by the constantly shifting political sands. Their stories might be more affecting, though, if Wilmot had better organized his tale. The story is maddeningly digressive and overstuffed, built on cascades of run-on sentences, poorly signaled shifts in time and overly detailed histories of minor characters. The messiness doesn’t wreck the book entirely—the decentralized feel is actually fitting given the subject matter—but both the humor and the tragedy could cut more cleanly.

A long, bumpy ride, though Wilmot’s rage and passion are palpable.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2006

ISBN: 0-312-34263-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2006

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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