An ambitious, important book, erudite and anguished, about the role of writer as witness.



Iranian American writer and translator Missaghi's debut novel, set in Tehran, aims to unknot the city's tangled secrets—its art, its violent histories—and illuminate inhabitants living and dead.

The narrative is fragmentary, deliberately disjointed, because, as the unnamed narrator explains, "the whole only becomes the whole in parts, in conversation with the parts, dispersed in time, in space." It is a novel filled with unanswerable questions: "How can we free ourselves from the past while honoring it?" "How does death define the experience of life?" "Can the living even have a narrative without the narratives of the dead?" The book begins with a woman's search for public statues that went missing in the spring of 2010, in the wake of Iran's political unrest. The pieces are numbered and described as though in a catalog: "Missing Statue (1): Mother and Child. Location: San'at Square." Interspersed with the statues and the story of her search for them are pages of questions, word clouds, and quotations from academic works on the subjects of dreams and urban spaces, and the tone ranges everywhere from journalistic to magical realist. Another set of numbers begins, this one a catalog of corpses. "I make her keep looking for the bronze bodies while these bodies of flesh and blood begin to become their own statues in the landscape of my soul," the narrator tells us. The dead described here are based on real cases, and what connects them is the violence of the state: assassinations, arrests by Cyber Police, attacks on university students, beatings in prison. In Persian, "both 'testimony' and 'martyrdom' are expressed with one word." We learn the cause of each death, the date and place, and the attempts by those left behind to learn the truth, to seek justice, to mourn. "What is the use of the book when the dead are not coming back to life?" "What good is yet another remnant?" "Will the trauma ever stop being inherited? Will humans ever change?"

An ambitious, important book, erudite and anguished, about the role of writer as witness.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-56689-573-6

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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