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

TRANS(RE)LATING HOUSE ONE

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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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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