An engrossing and unsettling tale of self-mythology and self-delusion.

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A man’s story of his time in China may not be what it seems in this literary novel.

Cole Chen spends a year in Hunan Province, where his American friends provide him with a job and an apartment in the bustling city of Changsha. “You’d set two goals for yourself that year,” he narrates to himself, “find a girlfriend and write a book (your first time attempting either). You’d had plenty of hookups in school but never really made it much further than that….What was the saying? ‘Sow your wild oats.’ ” He meets a woman named Harmony, a painter who also turns out to be a con artist. The two begin an affair, though one fated to end abruptly. Back in San Francisco after his year abroad, Cole is editing his memoir while overstaying his welcome on his brother Abraham’s couch. Rumors circulate about Cole making women “feel weird,” and Abraham suspects something happened in Changsha. As the two timelines unfold side by side—Cole in China from his own perspective and Cole in America from the viewpoints of those around him—a contradictory narrative emerges. The story that Cole tells about himself may not be the whole truth, especially given the writerly flourishes of his memoir. But will the rest of the tale come to light? Whether aligned with Cole or someone else, Carroll’s prose is exact and cutting, as here where Abraham ponders the silences in his brother’s tale: “It was clear that something had happened in Changsha. You would never know it, though, given the way he spoke. It was all adventure this and freedom that, roses and green fields, when the reality of the situation was something closer to the fact that he had hit rock bottom.” This is one of those novels of which the less said, the better. As readers realize just what the author is doing, the work morphs from a bookish-man-abroad tale into something more thrilling. It’s a story of a subtler sort of toxic masculinity, one that feels timely and yet organic. From concept to execution, Carroll delivers.

An engrossing and unsettling tale of self-mythology and self-delusion.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-78869-251-9

Page Count: 282

Publisher: Camphor Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Award Finalist

CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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