SAVAGE COUNTRY

Another gorgeous, brutal masterpiece from a great American writer.

Hunting the last of the buffalo.

“For weeks countless swarms of locusts, brown-black and brick-yellow, darkened the air like ash from a great conflagration, their jaws biting all things for what could be eaten.” This sentence appears on the first page of the novel. The use of imagery from nature to describe a human tragedy is emblematic of Olmstead’s (The Coldest Night, 2012, etc.) style, as is that idiosyncratic—and harrowing—final clause. Like Coal Black Horse (2007) and Far Bright Star (2009), this is a historical narrative that takes place in an unforgiving landscape, and the precision and poetry of the author’s language have a paradoxical effect: they make the setting strange and distinct while imbuing characters and their actions with a particular immediacy. Even the simplest phrase can be heavy with meaning. For example, a locket that contains not a photo, nor even a photograph, but a “photographic portrait” suggests the newness of this medium, suggests luxury, makes us understand that this image is precious. It puts distance between the reader and the man with the locket even as it helps us understand something about this hard man gazing at a woman’s face. Olmstead makes the reader pay attention, which seems fitting in a world where one careless move might result in a rattlesnake bite or a gunshot wound. This story begins in 1873, in Kansas, where Michael Coughlin has arrived to settle his dead brother’s debts—debts he’d hidden from his wife, Elizabeth. Even as she’s adjusting to her loss, she’s forced to confront the fact that the beautiful home, the vast farm, the cattle…none of it is hers. She realizes that the buffalo hunt her husband had been planning before his death was a wild effort to save all of them. What follows is a story about America told through its land and its animals and its diverse people and, especially, through the experiences of two vivid, singular, powerful characters.

Another gorgeous, brutal masterpiece from a great American writer.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61620-412-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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THE UNSEEN

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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