Lucid, unpretentious fiction spotlighting the drama of trying to make the divine part of our everyday lives.

THE DELIGHT OF BEING ORDINARY

A ROAD TRIP WITH THE POPE AND THE DALAI LAMA

Another genre-defying installment in Merullo’s engaging series of seriocomic religious novels (Dinner with Buddha, 2015, etc.).

As the subtitle signals, the leaders of two world religions are our guides on this “road trip,” reluctantly accompanied by Pope Francis’ cousin and First Assistant Paolo. He has plenty of enemies in the Vatican bureaucracy and is not anxious to give them more ammunition by facilitating his cousin’s desire for “an unofficial vacation” with the visiting Dalai Lama. This requires the help of Paolo’s estranged wife, Rosa, conveniently the proprietor of a chain of haircutting and makeup salons; she not only crafts their disguises, but voices feminist, secularist doubts about Catholicism and Buddhism while driving a borrowed Maserati with a hair-raising recklessness that alarms her cautious spouse almost more than her challenges to organized religion. Drawing on his apprenticeship as a thriller writer (A Russian Requiem, 1993), Merullo leavens the spiritual questioning with a sharp portrait of emotional and sexual tensions between Paolo and Rosa, plus escalating suspense after news reports cast the disappearance as a kidnapping and Paolo as the perpetrator. The quartet heads toward Lake Como, pausing along the way for biblically-tinged encounters with a shepherd, a prostitute, and a world-weary old movie star wondering why wealth and sex haven’t made him happy. Admirers of previous volumes will recognize Merullo’s knack for depicting goodness without treacle in his deft portraits of the pope and the Dalai Lama, and a La Dolce Vita–esque party scene spotlights his ability to discern humanity in the most decadent circumstances. There is a bit too much plot and too few moments of the transcendent serenity that formed the most beautiful passages in The Vatican Waltz (2013) and the Buddha trilogy. Nonetheless, it’s both moving and unnerving when key characters from those earlier novels reappear at a climactic encounter forecast by the holy men’s dreams to suggest that there may be spiritual hope for our battered world.

Lucid, unpretentious fiction spotlighting the drama of trying to make the divine part of our everyday lives.

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-54091-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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