by Peter Behrens ‧ RELEASE DATE: Feb. 23, 2016
There’s no doubt about Behrens’ talent, but the tragic romance at the novel’s center doesn't equal the power of his sobering...
Behrens (The O’Briens, 2011, etc.) again casts his searching eye over the interaction of history and personal destiny, following two families from Edwardian England to Nazi Germany.
Billy Lange and Karin Weinbrenner are born a year apart on the Isle of Wight, at the summer home maintained year-round by Billy’s parents for Karin’s wealthy German-Jewish father. This accident of geography gives Billy and Karin British passports and a means of escape when, three decades later, they are lovers in Germany watching with horrified disbelief as the Nazis make racist street violence an everyday event. Billy’s narrative of that grim year, 1938, begins immediately following his account of his birth and alternates with the chronicle of his deepening relationship with Karin as the two grow up. Their idyllic childhood is shattered by World War I. Billy’s father, the son of a German sea captain, is arrested as a spy and interned, then deported in 1919. Behrens quietly makes the point that brutality and xenophobia are regrettably universal human traits, though their manifestation in Nazi thugs is more apocalyptic than the routine cruelty of British bureaucrats. Baron von Weinbrenner, his Isle of Wight residence now confiscated, provides refuge and employment for the Langes at his estate outside Frankfurt. Behrens’ sensitive insights into the human heart are evident in his characterizations. The baron, an old-school patriot who insists to the end that “Germany was his country, not [the Nazis’],” is particularly poignant, but Billy’s stinging self-portrait of an honorable man not quite brave enough to raise his voice against the growing madness is also powerful and disturbing. Regrettably, free-spirited Karin is more schematic, as is the uninteresting obsession with the Winnetou novels of Karl May that takes her and Billy to wintry New Mexico for a denouement that feels overly staged, though unquestionably sad.There’s no doubt about Behrens’ talent, but the tragic romance at the novel’s center doesn't equal the power of his sobering meditations on the fragility of human decency.
Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016
Page Count: 464
Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2015
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015
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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.
Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.
Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.
Pub Date: April 7, 2020
Page Count: 272
Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020
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by Amor Towles ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 6, 2016
A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...
Awards & Accolades
Best Books Of 2016
New York Times Bestseller
Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.
Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).
Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016
Page Count: 480
Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016
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