A masterpiece made new for a generation of readers who ought to be very grateful indeed to Menon.

THE RAMAYANA

THE GREAT INDIAN EPIC RENDERED IN MODERN PROSE

One of the ancient world’s great verse epics is retold in energetic English prose in this sparkling volume, the work of an obviously accomplished Indian novelist and journalist.

The Ramayana, or “Tale of [Prince] Rama,” was composed in seven books containing 24,000 couplets by the Sanskrit poet Valmiki, around 300 b.c. It’s the “shorter” Indian (Hindu) epic (compared with its massive counterpart, The Mahabharata), a much-loved classic that continues to inspire works of visual art and dramatic performance. Like the epics of Homer and Milton, The Ramayana straddles earth and the unearthly regions, beginning with the bargain that malevolent “demon king” Ravana makes with the god Siva, who gives the mortal supernatural strength (but not immortality). The tale then focuses on childless King Dasaratha of Ayodha, the gift of four sons (borne by four wives) granted him by the god Vishnu, and the exploits of Dasaratha’s favorite son Rama (a “perfect man” who is in fact an incarnation of Vishnu). Some of this rich story’s most dramatic sequences include the contest of strength in which Rama wins the hand of the beautiful Sita (as much a paragon of virtue as himself); the intrigue perpetrated by one of his father’s wives, that consigns Rama to 14 years’ wandering in a vast forest; the abduction of Sita by Ravana, and the arduous process whereby Rama defeats the powerful demon and wins back his bride; and the ordeal by fire through which the ostensibly compromised Sita triumphantly proves her fidelity, and is fully reunited with her husband. A fascinating further dimension is added when Rama joins forces with Sugriva, King of the Monkeys, which creatures, led by their brave general Hanuman, enable the prince to infiltrate and destroy the demon-king’s evil empire. Nor is rousing adventure all that’s offered here. The characterizations of heroic Rama, stoical Sita, Rama’s stalwart brother Lakshmana, and especially the satanic Ravana are unusually full, complex, and preternaturally vivid.

A masterpiece made new for a generation of readers who ought to be very grateful indeed to Menon.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-86547-660-8

Page Count: 732

Publisher: North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2003

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

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THE TESTAMENTS

Atwood goes back to Gilead.

The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), consistently regarded as a masterpiece of 20th-century literature, has gained new attention in recent years with the success of the Hulu series as well as fresh appreciation from readers who feel like this story has new relevance in America’s current political climate. Atwood herself has spoken about how news headlines have made her dystopian fiction seem eerily plausible, and it’s not difficult to imagine her wanting to revisit Gilead as the TV show has sped past where her narrative ended. Like the novel that preceded it, this sequel is presented as found documents—first-person accounts of life inside a misogynistic theocracy from three informants. There is Agnes Jemima, a girl who rejects the marriage her family arranges for her but still has faith in God and Gilead. There’s Daisy, who learns on her 16th birthday that her whole life has been a lie. And there's Aunt Lydia, the woman responsible for turning women into Handmaids. This approach gives readers insight into different aspects of life inside and outside Gilead, but it also leads to a book that sometimes feels overstuffed. The Handmaid’s Tale combined exquisite lyricism with a powerful sense of urgency, as if a thoughtful, perceptive woman was racing against time to give witness to her experience. That narrator hinted at more than she said; Atwood seemed to trust readers to fill in the gaps. This dynamic created an atmosphere of intimacy. However curious we might be about Gilead and the resistance operating outside that country, what we learn here is that what Atwood left unsaid in the first novel generated more horror and outrage than explicit detail can. And the more we get to know Agnes, Daisy, and Aunt Lydia, the less convincing they become. It’s hard, of course, to compete with a beloved classic, so maybe the best way to read this new book is to forget about The Handmaid’s Tale and enjoy it as an artful feminist thriller.

Suspenseful, full of incident, and not obviously necessary.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54378-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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