An empathetic, challenging examination of familial secrets, shame, and solidarity.


Isles of the Blind

In Rosenberg’s (This Is Not Civilization, 2004) second novel, a man attempts to “resolve the puzzle” of his relationship with his late, estranged brother.

To the rest of the world, Yusuf Elmas was the hard-partying, womanizing CEO of the cellphone company Teletürk. But to Avram Benezra, Yusuf was his younger brother who rejected the family name and made billions while Avram led an unflashy life as an architect, husband, and father. In the spring of 2005, 14 years after they last spoke, Avram receives a call from Yusuf in the middle of the night and promptly hangs up on him. The following day, he finds out that his brother, a strong swimmer, drowned in the Sea of Marmara after a high-speed boating accident. Five years later, Avram learns that Yusuf had bequeathed his decrepit mansion on the Princes’ Islands to their dead father. Although Avram’s marriage is troubled, he travels alone to the islands to renovate the mansion with the help of Yusuf’s servants, including cook Flora Demirkan, whose 19-year-old daughter, Yasemin Demopoulous, drowned alongside his brother. As Avram speaks with Yusuf’s friends and acquaintances, he reconciles his memory of his difficult sibling—who accused their father of thievery, among other crimes—with an image of a kindhearted, ethical man who risked his life to publicly acknowledge the Armenian genocide in his native Turkey. Avram begins to suspect that his brother’s political actions are connected to his suspicious death, and author Rosenberg hints at a suspenseful conspiracy narrative to which he never quite commits. Despite this missed opportunity, the novel remains compelling and moving thanks to the sibling relationship at its core, which raises provocative questions about loyalty, jealousy, and how well one person can know another. A longing for intimacy shines through Rosenberg’s loveliest passages, as when 9-year-old Avram treats his 5-year-old brother’s cystic fibrosis and comes to “know, better than my own, the geometry of moles and birthmarks on [Yusuf’s] neck.”

An empathetic, challenging examination of familial secrets, shame, and solidarity.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-942515-18-0

Page Count: 494

Publisher: Fomite

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

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Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...


Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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