Fans of Cortázar, Donoso, and Gabriel García Márquez will find these to be eminently worthy last words from Piglia, who died...

THE DIARIES OF EMILIO RENZI

FORMATIVE YEARS

A valediction from the noted Argentine writer, known for bringing the conventions of hard-boiled U.S. crime drama into Latin American literature.

L’ennui, c’est moi. First-tier Argentine novelist Piglia’s (Money to Burn, 2003, etc.) literary alter ego, Emilio Renzi, was a world-weary detective when he stepped into the spotlight in the claustrophobic novel Artificial Respiration, published in Argentina in 1981 and in the U.S. in 1994, a searching look at Buenos Aires during the reign of the generals. Here, in notebooks begun decades earlier but only shaped into a novel toward the end of Piglia's life, Renzi is struggling to forge a career as a writer. He has a lot going for him: he has the predisposition to what is, after all, “an obsession, a habit, an addiction,” and he has the capacity to endure the days and nights of endless boredom that the poverty of writing can yield, broken by piles of books and visits to the casino, where he wins a few pesos here and there. “I have, finally, lost my interior life,” he sighs, returning to the grind of reading philosophy and literature, thinking great thoughts about space and time, and taking in Bergman films. Were it not for the starvation, it might make an agreeable life, but as Renzi’s diaries unfold, it’s pretty clear why he might want to find regular work tracking down disappeared intellectuals and murdered trade unionists; apart from the gambling income, he’s got to chase down scant paychecks from universities and publishers and scrape by on anthologizing, forcing him into the indignities of stretching out invisible money to cover very visible needs. “Everything consists of assessing those pure instants, at times when life no longer makes sense,” he laments. The story takes a few detours into the meta—it’s a nice turn that Renzi, himself a fictional writer, learns “what I want to do from imaginary writers. Stephen Dedalus or Nick Adams, for example”—but is mostly straightforward, reading just like the diary it purports to be.

Fans of Cortázar, Donoso, and Gabriel García Márquez will find these to be eminently worthy last words from Piglia, who died at the beginning of 2017.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63206-162-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Restless Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2017

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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