Fitzgerald's latest sometimes has all the crackle of the breaking ice on the Moskva River—but too often the ice floes seem...

THE BEGINNING OF SPRING

Prolific Fitzgerald (Innocence; Offshore; etc.) tackles different cultures with the same sort of intensity that Meryl Streep masters foreign accents—and with similar results: admirable and polished performances that are always just a trifle self-aware.

Here, it's Moscow in 1913 and Frank Reid, an Englishman who has spent most of his life in Russia, comes home after work at his printing company to find that his wife Nellie has mysteriously departed, by train, for England, taking their three children with her. But the three children turn up the next day, back in Moscow, without mama. And from this point on, things keep getting curiouser and curiouser for Frank. First, there is the matter of the drunken bear cub ransacking a dining room, smashing china and destroying 23 bottles of the finest vodka. Then there is the break-in at the printing press—where a young student fires his gun at Frank. And, finally, there is the discomfiting attraction that Frank feels for Lisa Ivanovna—the silent peasant girl he has hired to look after his children. In the end, the conceit is that nothing is quite what it seemed: Nellie is not a monster who has abandoned her family; Frank's faithful assistant, Selwyn, is not just a vague, good-hearted disciple of Tolstoy; Lisa Ivanovna is very much more than a simple governess. And Moscow itself is not the place it seemed to be. Meanwhile, Fitzgerald enhances the quirky energy of her story with details that seem both real and dreamlike: "the reek of tar and buckwheat pancakes"; "the sounds of a hundred bells chiming in the square"; "the potent leaf sap of the birch trees."

Fitzgerald's latest sometimes has all the crackle of the breaking ice on the Moskva River—but too often the ice floes seem sculpted here, arranged on the river just to dazzle us.

Pub Date: April 1, 1989

ISBN: 8050-0981-7

Page Count: -

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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