Stirring and moving: more fine work from a versatile, gifted writer.


A vigorous fictional account of the popular uprising that threw the Nazis out of Naples in 1943.

Mussolini has been deposed, Italy has signed an armistice, but the Germans still occupy Naples. Arrogant Nazi Col. Scholl anticipates no problem in carrying out his orders to “reduce the city to ashes and mud” in order to slow the imminent Allied invasion. He reckons without the people of Naples, whose rule-breaking, life-embracing spirit Merullo captures in a vivid narrative centered on five principal characters (in addition to the odious colonel). Street kid Armando sabotages Nazi trucks with his fellow homeless urchins. National Archives curator Giuseppe draws a detailed map of the city that will aid the Allies. His lover, Lucia, dresses as a nun to smuggle the map to Rita, a devoutly religious practitioner of the world’s oldest profession who can get it to the monastery sheltering an Allied intelligence officer. Meanwhile, Lucia’s father, Aldo, reluctant subordinate of the local Camorra, helps the mobsters steal Nazi weapons and equipment. The Camorristi have financial reasons for wanting Naples free of Germans, but Merullo’s nuanced portrait acknowledges that sometimes criminals do good, that there are a few decent Nazis among the vicious majority, and that Neapolitans’ generosity, bravery, and resourcefulness spring from an oppressive social system that mires many in dire poverty. The gripping climactic account of the widespread revolt that forces the arrogant Nazis to abandon the city may surprise readers who know Merullo as the author of unconventional spiritual fiction (Breakfast With the Buddha, 2007) or probing novels of American working-class life (In Revere, in Those Days, 2002), but this multifaceted writer always surprises and entertains. He finds time among the mayhem for a few poignant human dramas, brought to satisfactory conclusions along with the uprising.

Stirring and moving: more fine work from a versatile, gifted writer.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-1896-8

Page Count: 364

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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An exhilarating ride through Americana.


Newly released from a work farm in 1950s Kansas, where he served 18 months for involuntary manslaughter, 18-year-old Emmett Watson hits the road with his little brother, Billy, following the death of their father and the foreclosure of their Nebraska farm.

They leave to escape angry townspeople who believe Emmett got off easy, having caused the fatal fall of a taunting local boy by punching him in the nose. The whip-smart Billy, who exhibits OCD–like symptoms, convinces Emmett to drive them to San Francisco to reunite with their mother, who left town eight years ago. He insists she's there, based on postcards she sent before completely disappearing from their lives. But when Emmett's prized red Studebaker is "borrowed" by two rambunctious, New York–bound escapees from the juvie facility he just left, Emmett takes after them via freight train with Billy in tow. Billy befriends a Black veteran named Ulysses who's been riding the rails nonstop since returning home from World War II to find his wife and baby boy gone. A modern picaresque with a host of characters, competing points of view, wandering narratives, and teasing chapter endings, Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). You can quibble with one or two plot turns, but there's no resisting moments such as Billy's encounter, high up in the Empire State Building in the middle of the night, with professor Abacus Abernathe, whose Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers he's read 24 times. A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history.

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522235-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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