Nevertheless, an intelligent, earnest, and highly readable first novel.

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THIS IS NOT CIVILIZATION

An ambitious, bighearted debut transforms Rosenberg’s own experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Asia Minor and the American Southwest into an absorbing, if top-heavy, tale of economic crisis and cultural incompatibility.

It begins in the republic of Kyrgyzstan in the 1990s shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Ebullient Anarbek Tashtanaliev supports the two families that include his teenaged daughter Nazira and young second wife Lola by managing a “cheeseless cheese factory” that barely retains its government funding in the new age of privatization. Furthermore, Nazira narrowly escapes marriage to a local lout who claims her through the Kyrgyz tradition of bride kidnapping. Meanwhile, twentysomething drifter Jeff Hartig is forced to resign his job supervising a center for teenagers on an Arizona Apache reservation, and accepts a Peace Corps assignment teaching English in Kyrgyzstan. As Jeff’s relationship with his host family (the Tashtanalievs) grows more conflicted, his disillusioning experiences are counterpointed against those of his Apache friend Adam Dale, who moves away from the rez essentially ruled by his councilman father, attends college, then moves east—eventually hooking up with Jeff after the latter has departed Kyrgyzstan (leaving old business unfinished) and moved to Istanbul to work resettling refugees. The lengthy climax occurs in the aftermath of the massive 1999 earthquake, in which Anarbek (who had gone there to importune Jeff for money) and Nazira (who had followed her father there) are also caught up. This busy debut has much to recommend it: an authoritative grasp of the dynamics that influence underdeveloped nations and cultures; a lively narrative voice that efficiently distinguishes its characters’ contrasting natures; and notably vivid characterizations, particularly those of unstable Jeff and affable con-man Anarbek, a sensualist possessed of a Falstaffian joie de vivre. Unfortunately, the plot feels contrived, and its resolution, though in no way a happy one, exudes an unconvincing sentimental idealism.

Nevertheless, an intelligent, earnest, and highly readable first novel.

Pub Date: June 16, 2004

ISBN: 0-618-38601-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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