An engrossing, lushly written, sometimes bleak, but often exuberant meditation on human connectedness.

JACOBO THE TURKO

A NOVEL IN VERSES

A restless migrant gets ensnared in the war on terror in this labyrinthine poem cycle.

Bannowsky’s poems follow the misadventures of Jacobo Males Bitar, the illegitimate son of an immigrant Lebanese spa owner in Ecuador and his Native Ecuadorian accountant. Born in 1985, Jacobo becomes steeped in his mother’s Inca folk traditions and the lore of his father’s far-flung Maronite Catholic clan. True to his immigrant heritage, Jacobo embarks on his own international picaresque when, entranced by the idea of America, he goes to Delaware on a work visa in 2005 and gets a series of cruddy jobs. After he loses his passport, he’s arrested in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid and deported to Lebanon, a country he has never seen. There, he’s taken in by Muhammad Abu Barghouti Hamoudi, a Palestinian whose family lives in a refugee camp. Using money earned by smuggling hashish, Jacobo and Hamoudi get forged Turkish passports and leave Beirut during the Israel-Hezbollah War of 2006. Jacobo winds up in Istanbul, where he is kidnapped, handed over to United States intelligence officials, falsely charged with being a terrorist, and flown to Guantánamo Bay. Intertwined with his travails are poetic sketches of other characters, including his father, Elías; Olga Fisch, a Hungarian Jewish woman who left Europe in the 1930s and opened an Indigenous arts-and-crafts shop in Quito; Lawrence Wells, a U.S. special forces officer whose path repeatedly crosses Jacobo’s; and Leila, a Black American woman who shares a brief romance with the protagonist. Other poems digress into deep history. One explores an effort by the seventh-century Byzantine Emperor Constans II to stamp out theological controversies.

Bannowsky makes Jacobo a modern, global Everyman, adrift with other migrant strivers in a world that seems bent on either exploiting or scapegoating him. Yet Jacobo isn’t isolated. He and other wanderers stay tethered to a remembered past while they search for uncertain opportunities and new relationships—the very essence of the human condition from its ancient beginnings, the author suggests. (“Every Maronite shows haplotype J2, / the gene that presents in all Phoenicia’s costal colonies,” Elías boasts. “Thus, from a hundred streams, / we bear the traits of our great ancestors.”) Bannowsky’s characters explore these themes in a profusion of distinctive voices, from the stolid bureaucratese of Jacobo’s Guantánamo interrogators—“History of anxiety and depression: bi-polar symptoms including delusions of being a U.S. Citizen, an American Indian, or an ‘Otavalo from Ecuador’—to Leila’s wary rap soliloquy. (“Whatchu know about my people; / watchu know about the street? / You see a pusher for a preacher / and a hustler for a teacher / in every brother that you meet?”) The author’s poetry mixes quirky erudition with perfectly pitched demotic speech that jumbles street slang with pop genetics and doughnut recipes. His verse captures even a poultry plant with an evocative lyricism (“Like a lone star in the manurey firmament that was / the warehouse, a single light bulb shown / on thousands of white chickens across a sea of dark dirt; they / roiled softly like expiring foam, / clucking mild reproaches at our approach”). The result is an entertaining, soulful verse tale of people trying to find their places in the world.

An engrossing, lushly written, sometimes bleak, but often exuberant meditation on human connectedness.

Pub Date: June 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-9788451-5-5

Page Count: 132

Publisher: Broken Turtle Books LLC

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2021

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A moralistic noir masquerading as a heart-warmer.

THE WINNERS

Life continues haltingly for the inhabitants of Beartown and its rival borough, Hed.

As in the two earlier books in this series (Beartown, 2017; Us Against You, 2018), things are never settled between these two hockey-obsessed towns in the forests of Sweden. Only one can seemingly do well at a time—resourcewise or hockeywise; the two are interchangeable—and their residents share a mutual, pathological hatred. Beloved characters return, new ones are introduced, tragedy is promised. Backman repeatedly tells the reader about his characters’ overwhelming love for each other, but their ability to actually care for one another comes and goes with the demands of the unwieldy plot. He wants to assure readers that this makes his characters complex, but it really renders them pawns. To stoke the conflict between the towns, he includes not only the pregnancy-ending factory accident of a nameless woman (ushering in a suspiciously out-of-place anti-abortion sentiment), but also the murder of a beloved dog. These machinations are not alone in being soppy and unearned. The book is almost 700 pages long and covers only a two-week span. Backman writes with wit and sincerity and is a talented web-spinner, but with a tale this long, the lack of nuance becomes grating. There’s also a brief “not all men” message that, given the toxic nature of the narrative, is hard to ignore.

A moralistic noir masquerading as a heart-warmer.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-982-11279-0

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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A more adorable plea for rationalism and gender equality would be hard to find.

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LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY

Two chemists with major chemistry, a dog with a big vocabulary, and a popular cooking show are among the elements of this unusual compound.

At the dawn of the 1960s, Elizabeth Zott finds herself in an unexpected position. She's the star of a television program called Supper at Six that has taken American housewives by storm, but it's certainly not what the crass station head envisions: “ 'Meaningful?' Phil snapped. 'What are you? Amish? As for nutritious: no. You’re killing the show before it even gets started. Look, Walter, it’s easy. Tight dresses, suggestive movements...then there’s the cocktail she mixes at the end of every show.' ” Elizabeth is a chemist, recently forced to leave the lab where she was doing important research due to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Now she's reduced to explaining things like when to put the steak in the pan. "Be sure and wait until the butter foams. Foam indicates that the butter’s water content has boiled away. This is critical. Because now the steak can cook in lipids rather than absorb H2O.” If ever a woman was capable of running her own life, it's Elizabeth. But because it's the 1950s, then the '60s, men have their sweaty paws all over both her successes and failures. On the plus side, there's Calvin Evans, world-famous chemist, love of her life, and father of her child; also Walter Pine, her friend who works in television; and a journalist who at least tries to do the right thing. At the other pole is a writhing pile of sexists, liars, rapists, dopes, and arrogant assholes. This is the kind of book that has a long-buried secret at a corrupt orphanage with a mysterious benefactor as well as an extremely intelligent dog named Six-Thirty, recently retired from the military. ("Not only could he never seem to sniff out the bomb in time, but he also had to endure the praise heaped upon the smug German shepherds who always did.") Garmus' energetic debut also features an invigorating subplot about rowing.

A more adorable plea for rationalism and gender equality would be hard to find.

Pub Date: April 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54734-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

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