A man’s novel full of nature lore and the mechanics of hunting and surviving, but also richly poetic and emotionally...

ORDINARY WOLVES

A first novel, a Milkweed National Fiction Prize winner, offers an unsentimental yet very passionate take on the collision of Eskimo and white culture, as well as the encroachment of materialistic civilization on Alaska’s unspoiled wilderness at the end of the 20th century.

After his mother flees back to the Lower 40 never to return, Cutuk (Calvin) is raised along with his older sister and brother by his father, Abe, in an igloo in northern Alaska. Abe’s attempt to live intimately with nature, with as few civilized distractions as possible, makes him an oddity not only among his educated peers but to the native Inupiaq residents of the nearby village of Takunak, who are happy to accept accouterments of modern life like TVs and snowmobiles. Under his father’s tutelage, Cutuk grows up steeped in knowledge of and love for the natural world but also finds himself wanting to fit in with a community. After home-schooling, Cutuk finishes high school in Takunak, where he falls in love with Dawna, the granddaughter of his idol Enuk Wolfglove, who disappeared while hunting wolves. But, in the village, Cutuk feels like a second-class citizen because he’s white. As a lonely young man, he decides to explore the city life that has drawn away his siblings. His brother has moved to Fairbanks, while his sister has attended college in Anchorage (though she ends up a teacher in Takunak). While the myriad details, complete with glossary, about surviving in the Alaskan wilderness and the daily village life among the Inupiaq are engrossing, Kantner’s description of Anchorage through Cutuk’s innocent yet intelligent eyes is equally compelling. After years in the city, Cutuk, with mixed results, returns to Takunak. He eventually finds himself back on the land, alone but with Dawna’s future companionship a possibility.

A man’s novel full of nature lore and the mechanics of hunting and surviving, but also richly poetic and emotionally engrossing.

Pub Date: May 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-57131-044-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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Rather than settle for a coming-of-age or travails-of-immigrants story, Hosseini has folded them both into this searing...

THE KITE RUNNER

Here’s a real find: a striking debut from an Afghan now living in the US. His passionate story of betrayal and redemption is framed by Afghanistan’s tragic recent past.

Moving back and forth between Afghanistan and California, and spanning almost 40 years, the story begins in Afghanistan in the tranquil 1960s. Our protagonist Amir is a child in Kabul. The most important people in his life are Baba and Hassan. Father Baba is a wealthy Pashtun merchant, a larger-than-life figure, fretting over his bookish weakling of a son (the mother died giving birth); Hassan is his sweet-natured playmate, son of their servant Ali and a Hazara. Pashtuns have always dominated and ridiculed Hazaras, so Amir can’t help teasing Hassan, even though the Hazara staunchly defends him against neighborhood bullies like the “sociopath” Assef. The day, in 1975, when 12-year-old Amir wins the annual kite-fighting tournament is the best and worst of his young life. He bonds with Baba at last but deserts Hassan when the latter is raped by Assef. And it gets worse. With the still-loyal Hassan a constant reminder of his guilt, Amir makes life impossible for him and Ali, ultimately forcing them to leave town. Fast forward to the Russian occupation, flight to America, life in the Afghan exile community in the Bay Area. Amir becomes a writer and marries a beautiful Afghan; Baba dies of cancer. Then, in 2001, the past comes roaring back. Rahim, Baba’s old business partner who knows all about Amir’s transgressions, calls from Pakistan. Hassan has been executed by the Taliban; his son, Sohrab, must be rescued. Will Amir wipe the slate clean? So he returns to the hell of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and reclaims Sohrab from a Taliban leader (none other than Assef) after a terrifying showdown. Amir brings the traumatized child back to California and a bittersweet ending.

Rather than settle for a coming-of-age or travails-of-immigrants story, Hosseini has folded them both into this searing spectacle of hard-won personal salvation. All this, and a rich slice of Afghan culture too: irresistible.

Pub Date: June 2, 2003

ISBN: 1-57322-245-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

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