A richly imagined story of severed bonds amid conflict.

THE MOUNTAINS SING

A sweeping tale of one family’s shifting fortunes in Vietnam across half a century.

The first novel in English by the Vietnam-born Nguyễn (The Secret of Hoa Sen: Poems, 2014) centers on the Trần family, living in North Vietnam during three conflict-struck generations. Her lens turns to two characters in particular: Diệu Lan, who grew up amid Japanese and French occupations, and her granddaughter Hương, who uses Diệu Lan’s stories to try to piece together what happened during the war. It is a largely grim portrait. Diệu Lan watched as her father was beheaded by Japanese soldiers and saw the whole region suffer through a long famine; the six children who weren’t killed during the war suffered PTSD or had their own children born dead, deformed from their parents' exposure to Agent Orange. The novel’s major set piece and most effecting sequence follows Diệu Lan as she is stripped of her livelihood in the midst of Communist North Vietnam’s “Land Reform” policy that demonized traders like herself; she’s forced to abandon her children, one by one, to protect them from retribution. Her daughter (and Hương’s mother) Ngọc, a doctor, survives the war, but comes home badly traumatized, and nobody knows where Hương’s father is; the girl’s sole tangible connection to him is a carved bird whose name gives the novel its title. For all the loss Nguyễn depicts, though, her story is invitingly and gracefully told. She is particularly adept at weaving in folktales and aphorisms to create a vivid sense of place. Hương’s love for her homeland is complicated by her family’s struggle and her refusal to see Americans as pure evil (“By reading their books, I saw the other side of them”), punctuated by a final twist that challenges her notions of love and family. The novel lapses into sentiment at times, but it mainly honors the complexity of its setting.

A richly imagined story of severed bonds amid conflict.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-818-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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