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PASSAGE WEST

The lives of two Indian immigrants are scarred by forces still alive a century later.

A debut novel recounts the struggles and triumphs of immigrants in California’s Imperial Valley a century ago.

Reddi’s novel opens in 1974 with the death of a cantankerous old man named Karak Singh Gill, attended by a longtime friend, the equally cantankerous Ram Singh. But most of the book is set between 1913 and 1924, after Karak and Ram, both natives of Punjab, have arrived in the Imperial Valley. Its rapid agricultural growth is powered by immigrants like the two friends, who first work for Karak’s well-established patron, Jivan Singh, and later become sharecroppers themselves—it’s illegal for immigrants to own land. Ram was sent to the United States by the uncle who raised him, assigned to earn money to send home. He left behind a bride whose pregnancy he doesn’t even hear about until he’s in America, and he longs to return, but the uncle keeps telling him to stay a while longer—stays that add up to years. Karak, a veteran of the British Army, has no desire to go back to India. A man of immense pride, he aims to establish himself in California. Reddi details the obstacles in his way, especially the pervasive bigotry not only against immigrants in general, but between members of each immigrant group: Indians, Mexicans, Japanese, and more. Another barrier that has a huge impact on Ram and Karak: laws that make it nearly impossible for immigrants to bring their wives into the country at the same time that miscegenation laws forbid them to marry women of another race here. The pressures on Ram, Karak, and other immigrants will lead to an explosive act of violence. The sweeping narrative is deeply researched and offers a fascinating look at a historic era from a fresh perspective. Dense with incident and a large cast of characters, the plot bogs down from time to time, and the book’s female characters remain mostly long-suffering and one-dimensional. But the complex relationship between Ram and Karak powers the book and reflects issues still with us.

The lives of two Indian immigrants are scarred by forces still alive a century later.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-089879-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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