Still, newcomer Jha offers a detailed look at an immigrant’s life in Paris, both its hardships and pleasures.

SMELL

The difficult journey to independence of a young Gujarati woman with a remarkable sense of smell.

When Leela’s father is killed in a riot, her family decides to leave their adopted home of Kenya. At 18, Leela is sent to live with relatives in Paris, while her mother and two brothers go to England, promising to retrieve her as soon as they’re settled. Leela soon realizes that her mother, who has quickly remarried, has no intention of sending for her, leaving Leela to manage in the unhappy household of her aunt and uncle. Used to a privileged life back in Africa, where she was preparing for university, she now finds herself cooking vast, complex Indian meals for a thankless aunt and helping her uncle in his small market. When Leela is thrown out (after revealing, in a fit of anger, how her uncle entertains his female customers), she’s fortunate enough to be taken in by a glamorous, well-connected model who refers to Leela as her “Indian friend.” Leela then finds a position as an au pair—and of course also a position as the father’s mistress. Throughout the story, it's Leela’s refined sense of smell that teaches her about her new country and the people in it, enabling her to create the most sublime culinary works. It also enables—and plagues—her with the ability to smell her own shame. She learns French and gradually makes friends, but only when she becomes mistress to a rich and powerful man does she learn the importance of identity—something she’s been sorely lacking. Most of the narrative has little to do with choices Leela actually makes and much to do with her luck in meeting influential people. The close, when she finally chooses a life of her own, comes not a moment too soon.

Still, newcomer Jha offers a detailed look at an immigrant’s life in Paris, both its hardships and pleasures.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-56947-241-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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