A beautifully crafted second novel from Booker finalist and Sri Lankan—born Gunesekera (Reef, 1995) tells of two warring families in contemporary Sri Lanka. Like the reluctant confession of a wayward spouse, the truth of the tale here is learned incrementally, teased out by inference and gradual revelation. Nor are there any stunning denouements—only a pervasive sadness as two accomplished families, like Sri Lanka’s two real-life warring factions, continue harming each other. The story of the feuding Ducal and Vatunas families is narrated by Chip, himself a Sri Lankan who immigrated in 1975 to London (where he lived in Pearl Ducal’s apartment). A year after Pearl’s death, Chip, in Sri Lanka on business, is anxious to catch up with Pearl’s son Prins, whom he suspects has gone into hiding for fear of his life. Cutting back first to the previous year, when Prins flew to London for his mother’s funeral, Chip continues afterward moving back and forth through time and place as he tells what he learned or intuited of a story beginning back in the 1930s, when Pearl married Jason Ducal. Jason turned out to be an astute businessman, but when he bought his dream house—next to the Vatunas family’s compound—the Ducal family’s troubles began: Esra, the Vatunas patriarch, conspired to undercut a business venture of Jason’s and was probably responsible for his murder in 1956; Esra’s son Tivoli may have been Pearl’s lover; and his grandson Dino seemed determined to block Prins— marriage to Lola Vatunas, Dino’s daughter, and tried to deter Prins— efforts to discover who killed Jason. As Pearl hints in deathbed reminiscences and in letters found afterward, living near the Vatunas family permanently blighted the Ducals— lives. Elegiac in mood and rich in evocations of character and setting, a novel that gracefully limns the origins of a domestic—and national—tragedy.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-56584-484-X

Page Count: 288

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1998

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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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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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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