A sharp, subversive novel of ideas that seems to reflect an era in which ideas themselves are bankrupt.

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NO-SIGNAL AREA

A novel that shows postwar Croatia suspended between socialism and capitalism and between hopelessness and hilarity.

The farcical tone that opens the latest from the highly acclaimed author (Our Man in Iraq, 2013) leads to darker and deeper implications within an expansive novel that suggests insanity might be the best way to adapt to the new normal of a world gone mad and that language has blurred any distinction between truth and lies. Cousins Oleg and Nikola, of uncertain tribal ethnicity in a territory torn by war, initially seem like a duo out of slapstick Beckett, only instead of waiting for Godot they are waiting for their big payday. A hustler without political loyalties or principles, Oleg has stumbled upon a potential bonanza: a factory in the middle of nowhere, in a town known only as N., “had been spared the worst, because it was so remote that it wasn’t worth fighting over.” The factory used to manufacture a turbine that no one uses anymore except for a country at odds with the United States that is willing to pay big money for it. If only Oleg can reopen the factory with workers who know what they are doing and can resume production, he can cash out. While Oleg arranges financing and puts the deal together, he leaves Nikola in N. as the plant manager, albeit one who knows almost nothing about the plant or management. They locate a former engineer and hobbyist sculptor to help them resume production so that this speculative capitalist scheme has the workers actually running the operation, “holding on to the vestiges of a socialist mind-set.” Ultimately, these are people caught between -isms, between an unworkable past and an unthinkable future. Toward the end, the third-person narration gives way to a series of first-person soliloquies, and at first it can be a challenge to tell who is speaking—but that confusion ultimately reinforces the sense that individual voices, lives, and fates are being subsumed within the chaos of systems falling apart. The climax finds art markets and revenue streams converging in a way that seems both impossible and inevitable.

A sharp, subversive novel of ideas that seems to reflect an era in which ideas themselves are bankrupt.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-60980-970-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Seven Stories

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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A trifle facile, but this decades-spanning drama is readable and engrossing throughout.

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A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA

Two refugees from the Spanish Civil War cross the Atlantic Ocean to Chile and a half-century of political and personal upheavals.

We meet Victor Dalmau and Roser Bruguera in 1938 as it is becoming increasingly clear that the Republican cause they support is doomed. When they reunite in France as penniless refugees, Roser has survived a harrowing flight across the Pyrenees while heavily pregnant and given birth to the son of Victor’s brother Guillem, killed at the Battle of the Ebro. Victor, evacuated with the wounded he was tending in a makeshift hospital, learns of a ship outfitted by poet Pablo Neruda to take exiles to a new life in Chile, but he and Roser must marry in order to gain a berth. Allende (In the Midst of Winter, 2017, etc.) expertly sets up this forced intimacy between two very different people: Resolute, realistic Roser never looks back and doggedly pursues a musical career in Chile while Victor, despite being fast-tracked into medical school by socialist politician Salvador Allende (a relative of the author's), remains melancholy and nostalgic for his homeland. Their platonic affection deepens into physical love and lasting commitment in an episodic narrative that reaches a catastrophic climax with the 1973 coup overthrowing Chile’s democratically elected government. For Victor and Roser, this is a painful reminder of their losses in Spain and the start of new suffering. The wealthy, conservative del Solar family provides a counterpoint to the idealistic Dalmaus; snobbish, right-wing patriarch Isidro and his hysterically religious wife, Laura, verge on caricature, but Allende paints more nuanced portraits of eldest son Felipe, who smooths the refugees’ early days in Chile, and daughter Ofelia, whose brief affair with Victor has lasting consequences. Allende tends to describe emotions and events rather than delve into them, and she paints the historical backdrop in very broad strokes, but she is an engaging storyteller. A touching close in 1994 brings one more surprise and unexpected hope for the future to 80-year-old Victor.

A trifle facile, but this decades-spanning drama is readable and engrossing throughout.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2015-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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