Not exactly uncharted territory, but Parmar enters it with passion and precision, delivering a sensitive, superior soap...

VANESSA AND HER SISTER

A devoted, emotionally intense portrait of the Bloomsbury group focuses in particular on sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, whose complicated relationship is tested to the breaking point by their competing affections for two men.

Plunging into her story—the lives, love affairs, intellectual debates, arguments and achievements of an extensive, creative group of English friends—Parmar (Exit the Actress, 2011) allows the background facts about her real-life characters to emerge as needed. The curious, comfortably middle-class ménage of the four orphaned Stephen siblings—Adrian, Thoby, Vanessa and Virginia—living together in a large house in central London in the early 20th century is the foundation of the book. It’s in this house that Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Maynard Keynes, E.M. Forster and many others congregate for bohemian evenings. Bell falls in love with Vanessa; Strachey is a friend of Leonard Woolf, who will eventually return from the Colonies to marry Virginia. Narrated by Vanessa in diary format, punctuated, as if in a scrapbook, by letters, tickets, bills and postcards, this slice of fictional biography spans the years 1905-12, in particular the triangle that forms among Clive, Vanessa and her sister after the birth of the first Bell child. Vanessa, the artist, emerges as “an ocean of majestic calm,” almost infinitely tolerant of her sister, the writer, whose capricious, jealous nature, though tempered by intellectual brilliance and immense charm, tips over at times into madness and suicidal thoughts. This fictional Virginia is far less appealing than her sister, whose nuanced account of her shifting feelings for Clive and eventual love for another invites sympathy. Leonard Woolf’s arrival marks the beginning of the next episode in the group’s extraordinarily intertwined history.

Not exactly uncharted territory, but Parmar enters it with passion and precision, delivering a sensitive, superior soap opera of celebrated lives.

Pub Date: Jan. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8041-7637-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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More rich, satisfying food for thought from one of America’s most imaginative and accomplished novelists.

FOUR FREEDOMS

The American home front during World War II serves as metaphor for a fallen world seeking renewal in the latest from Crowley (Lord Byron’s Novel, 2005, etc.).

The action takes place in an aircraft factory in formerly oil-rich Ponca City, Okla.—and in the memories of several brilliantly realized characters. These include Dutch-American siblings Henry and Julius Van Damme, whose company has been entrusted with mass-producing America’s largest warplane; disabled plant worker Prosper Olander, whose roots lie in an unidentified northern city and a confused family history; several splendid women with whom Prosper forges close relationships; and idealistic Pancho Notzing, a self-styled philosopher who preaches a relativistic gospel embracing imperfection and diversity. In a tricky narrative that weaves in and out of the novel’s present (1942–5) and lavishly detailed flashbacks to the characters’ earlier lives, Crowley creates a fascinating microcosm: an insular, though globally inspired and involved alternative world that’s as radical an invention as the bifurcated world of his classic fantasy Little, Big (1984). The theme of an embattled idyllic America suddenly vulnerable to threats to the “four freedoms”(of speech and worship, from want and fear) enumerated in FDR’s third State of the Union address, is spelled out in the stories of Prosper’s sufferings growing up with a curved spine; his first lover Vi Harbison’s exuberant experiences as a softball pitcher; her successor Connie Wrobleski’s unhappy marriage and sexual renewal; and, just before a climactic occurrence wipes Ponca City’s slate clean, the intellectual road taken by Pancho en route to a fructifying vision of a “Harmonious City” that incarnates the ideal of full equality for all. Crowley further enriches his text with complex allusions to classical mythology and Shakespearean drama; Prosper evokes both The Tempest’s hero-sage and the wounded Fisher King whose sacrifice redeems a stricken Waste Land.

More rich, satisfying food for thought from one of America’s most imaginative and accomplished novelists.

Pub Date: June 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-06-123150-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2009

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The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.

INFINITE COUNTRY

A 15-year-old girl in Colombia, doing time in a remote detention center, orchestrates a jail break and tries to get home.

"People say drugs and alcohol are the greatest and most persuasive narcotics—the elements most likely to ruin a life. They're wrong. It's love." As the U.S. recovers from the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, from the misery of separations on the border, from both the idea and the reality of a wall around the United States, Engel's vital story of a divided Colombian family is a book we need to read. Weaving Andean myth and natural symbolism into her narrative—condors signify mating for life, jaguars revenge; the embattled Colombians are "a singed species of birds without feathers who can still fly"; children born in one country and raised in another are "repotted flowers, creatures forced to live in the wrong habitat"—she follows Talia, the youngest child, on a complex journey. Having committed a violent crime not long before she was scheduled to leave her father in Bogotá to join her mother and siblings in New Jersey, she winds up in a horrible Catholic juvie from which she must escape in order to make her plane. Hence the book's wonderful first sentence: "It was her idea to tie up the nun." Talia's cross-country journey is interwoven with the story of her parents' early romance, their migration to the United States, her father's deportation, her grandmother's death, the struggle to reunite. In the latter third of the book, surprising narrative shifts are made to include the voices of Talia's siblings, raised in the U.S. This provides interesting new perspectives, but it is a little awkward to break the fourth wall so late in the book. Attention, TV and movie people: This story is made for the screen.

The rare immigrant chronicle that is as long on hope as it is on heartbreak.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982159-46-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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NO DARK PLACE

No Dark Place ($22.00; Jun. 3; 294 pp.; 0-06-019238-0): Most medieval mysteries dip into the past, but it’s quite a fast-forward from Wolf’s sojourn in prehistoric romance (The Reindeer Hunters, 1994, etc.) to the comparatively recent 12th century, when Hugh Corbaille learns that the father he just lost may not be his father after all; Hugh may be the kidnapped heir, and the only witness to the long-ago murder, of the Earl of Wiltshire.

Pub Date: June 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-06-019238-0

Page Count: 294

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1999

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