At its best, a finely observed consideration of how mental illness impacts an entire family.


The loss of a beloved daughter, presumed drowned, exposes the secrets and heartache behind the facade of a perfect-seeming family.

It’s 1962 and the Maurer family’s existence in Confederação, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro, is glamorous and privileged. Brilliant, mercurial Hugo, a Canadian employed by BrazCan, feels liberated by “this golden town”; his beautiful wife, Dora, with her wealthy Brazilian roots, is at home here; and their three daughters enjoy the beaches, their own lush garden, and the care of servants. But the Maurers’ life is not quite as flawless as it seems. Charismatic Hugo is subject to extreme mood swings: sometimes he’s overflowing with impulses, ideas, and energy, while at others times he's cowed and despairing. Luiza, his eldest daughter, with whom he has a special bond, finds herself taking on some of the adult role of caring for him, while Dora feels guilty for diminishing her child’s “capacity to live a normal, starry young-girl life.” As Hugo’s illness deepens, the family’s finances oblige them to move back to Canada, but then, just before their departure, Luiza goes missing from the beach. Faber’s pensive, psychologically probing debut is tireless in its mapping of the Maurers’ geometry, tracing each family member’s feelings from a point a year later, after Luiza’s symbolic funeral. The Maurers' plans to leave the country have resumed, but then come rumors that Luiza might not have drowned after all. This slow, late plot thread, though welcome, isn’t quite enough to energize a story so preoccupied with the delicate inner fretwork of psychological perspectives. Notable for its lovely prose and melancholy empathy, the book is slowed by its narrow focus and circularity. There’s a peaceful conclusion waiting, though, for readers happy to stay the course.

At its best, a finely observed consideration of how mental illness impacts an entire family.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-39496-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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