A brave but heavy-handed work about the plight of women in a patriarchal society.

THE FIRST WIFE

A man’s five wives band together, against all odds, to demand what’s rightfully theirs.

Rami has been married to her husband, Tony, for 20 years. They live in southern Mozambique, and they have five children. Tony’s been a good husband to Rami: as chief of police, he’s a successful, professional man, and he’s provided well for his family. But lately he’s been absent—conspicuously so—and Rami sets out to discover his whereabouts. She finds that she isn’t the only woman in his life. Tony, it turns out, has been stringing along not just one or two, but four other women, each of them with a trail of children. Rami is bewildered, devastated, and furious in turn. She confronts the other women, but they won’t be scared off: like Rami, they depend on Tony for their livelihoods. Rami tries a few different strategies. To learn to hold on to her husband, she takes lessons in love; she also visits a dealer in fortunes and then the wife of a seer. Then Rami shifts tactics. Instead of squabbling, she and the other wives agree to band together. They establish a conjugal rota, according to which Tony will spend a week with each wife, in prescribed order. They force Tony to grant each one of them legitimacy, which brings with it various rights, security, and comfort. Rami encourages each of the women to establish her own small business so they won’t be so dependent on Tony. They seem to be flourishing. But nothing in their world is really stable or fair. As Rami thinks: “To have only one love in life? Baloney! Only women, forever stupid, swallow that story. Men love every day. Every time the sun comes up, off they go in search of new passions, new emotions, while we wait forever more for a love that’s gone old and feeble. All men are polygamous.” This novel by Chiziane, the first published Mozambiquan female novelist, is daring, biting in its critique. It describes the plight of women caught between Mozambique’s traditional culture and its colonized societies. In that sense, it’s an effective work. But it begins to bow beneath the weight of its own responsibility. Chiziane aims for an emotional pitch that can’t be sustained for the entire length of the novel. Her metaphors are heavy, relentless, following one upon the other. She might have done with a lighter touch.

A brave but heavy-handed work about the plight of women in a patriarchal society.

Pub Date: July 26, 2016

ISBN: 9780914671480

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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