BAND OF ANGELS

Warren, Pulitzer prize winner, erratic genius, poet, philosopher, novelist, short story writer, has written a provocative, at times brilliant book, which attacks from a different angle, the always moot subject of miscegenation and its aftermath. Kentucky and Louisiana, spanning the pre-Civil War and Reconstruction years, once again provide a background. Manty Starr, only child of a "widowed" plantation owner, is now spoiled and cherished, now rejected. A stormy interlude at a school above the line fires her with abolitionist philosophy, which her father pushes aside. Then, at her father's grave, Manty learns that she is his chattel, child of a slave, subject to seizure for his debts. The balance of the book is her own tragic tale of a lifelong search for freedom, again and again with her grasp. But manumission papers prove insufficient to free her spirit. Escape from Hamish, the good man who had given her protection, is not the answer. The tie with Shaddy, grizzled old Negro whom her father had sold when he threatened her childhood security; with Seth Parton, twisted fanatic who would not allow himself to love her; with Rau-ru, free slave plantation manager, linked with old Hamish' unsavory past; with Tobias, northerner, trying to escape the net of his father's power, by taking over New Orleans' Freedman's Bureau all played their part in Manty's search for a way of life. She could not escape the fears and memories and suspicions of her past. Tobias, knowing- she is led to believe- her guilty secret, loves And marries her. But their life together, as he spirals downward, is her constant cross. It takes 25 years before they learn that freedom lies within themselves. The book is uneven in development, often confused in conveying the underlying philosophy. But when the words are found and the meaning comes through, the reader finds reward. The moods and passions of a tortured era provide parallel backgrounds; now and again rare beauty comes alive in poetic passages. As September Literary Guild selection, many of the hurdles will be taken.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1955

ISBN: 0807119466

Page Count: 396

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1955

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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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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

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. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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