A skilled storyteller with a bent for the quietly macabre and the burdens of those crushed by totalitarian rule.

SEASONS OF PURGATORY

Iranian writer Mandanipour delivers a series of stories that are alternately spectral and somber but altogether subversive.

In the opening story, "Shadows of the Cave," a widower quietly defies the new Iranian theocracy by wearing a dark suit and tie, “which since the revolution has been considered ‘the leash of civilization’ and is unofficially banned,” in order to visit his wife’s grave in a cemetery now crowded with victims of the mullahs. He defies the censorial dictates of the regime as well, keeping a large private library, nursing memories of a long-ago post before the shah’s coup d’état of 1953. The library—and this is the crux—focuses on animals, with which Mr. Farvaneh has a philosophical obsession: “At times,” he intones, “their indifference to humans is truly insulting.” In the title story, Iran’s war with Iraq provides a scenario in which endless suffering breeds just that indifference to other humans, as a wounded Iraqi in no-man’s land eventually disintegrates against an exposed hillside. Remarks the Iranian narrator, “One day, we noticed that his lips had decomposed—it was the worms’ doing—his long teeth were exposed; he looked like he was laughing. Late one night, an animal ripped off his arm and took it away, but he didn’t fall.” Nasser, the doomed Iraqi soldier, is a drag on morale on both sides, but there’s nothing anyone can do until finally an officer, driven nearly mad by combat, erases his presence with a rocket. In "Seven Captains," speaking to current headlines, another soldier gloomily remarks of the power plant he’s guarding, “There’s talk that the Westerners have said they’ll bomb it. If they do, people say we’ll all die….Do you think they’re right?” Death comes in many forms in stories marked by symbolic animals: fish, worms, cuckoos, cowering dogs, snakes that hide among “the arabesque motif on the carpet,” everywhere they can trouble the dreams of struggling humans.

A skilled storyteller with a bent for the quietly macabre and the burdens of those crushed by totalitarian rule.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-942658-95-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2021

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Underscores that the stories we tell about our lives and those of others can change hearts, minds, and history.

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OUR MISSING HEARTS

In a dystopian near future, art battles back against fear.

Ng’s first two novels—her arresting debut, Everything I Never Told You (2014), and devastating follow-up, Little Fires Everywhere (2017)—provided an insightful, empathetic perspective on America as it is. Her equally sensitive, nuanced, and vividly drawn latest effort, set in a dystopian near future in which Asian Americans are regarded with scorn and mistrust by the government and their neighbors, offers a frightening portrait of what it might become. The novel’s young protagonist, Bird, was 9 when his mother—without explanation—left him and his father; his father destroyed every sign of her. Now, when Bird is 12, a letter arrives. Because it is addressed to “Bird,” he knows it's from his mother. For three years, he has had to answer to his given name, Noah; repeat that he and his father no longer have anything to do with his mother; try not to attract attention; and endure classmates calling his mother a traitor. None of it makes sense to Bird until his one friend, Sadie, fills him in: His mother, the child of Chinese immigrants, wrote a poem that had improbably become a rallying cry for those protesting PACT—the Preserving American Culture and Traditions Act—a law that had helped end the Crisis 10 years before, ushering in an era in which violent economic protests had become vanishingly rare, but fear and suspicion, especially for persons of Asian origin, reigned. One of the Pillars of PACT—“Protects children from environments espousing harmful views”—had been the pretext for Sadie’s removal from her parents, who had sought to expose PACT’s cruelties and, Bird begins to understand, had prompted his own mother’s decision to leave. His mother's letter launches him on an odyssey to locate her, to listen and to learn. From the very first page of this thoroughly engrossing and deeply moving novel, Bird’s story takes wing. Taut and terrifying, Ng’s cautionary tale transports us into an American tomorrow that is all too easy to imagine—and persuasively posits that the antidotes to fear and suspicion are empathy and love.

Underscores that the stories we tell about our lives and those of others can change hearts, minds, and history.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-49254-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

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DEMON COPPERHEAD

Inspired by David Copperfield, Kingsolver crafts a 21st-century coming-of-age story set in America’s hard-pressed rural South.

It’s not necessary to have read Dickens’ famous novel to appreciate Kingsolver’s absorbing tale, but those who have will savor the tough-minded changes she rings on his Victorian sentimentality while affirming his stinging critique of a heartless society. Our soon-to-be orphaned narrator’s mother is a substance-abusing teenage single mom who checks out via OD on his 11th birthday, and Demon’s cynical, wised-up voice is light-years removed from David Copperfield’s earnest tone. Yet readers also see the yearning for love and wells of compassion hidden beneath his self-protective exterior. Like pretty much everyone else in Lee County, Virginia, hollowed out economically by the coal and tobacco industries, he sees himself as someone with no prospects and little worth. One of Kingsolver’s major themes, hit a little too insistently, is the contempt felt by participants in the modern capitalist economy for those rooted in older ways of life. More nuanced and emotionally engaging is Demon’s fierce attachment to his home ground, a place where he is known and supported, tested to the breaking point as the opiate epidemic engulfs it. Kingsolver’s ferocious indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, angrily stated by a local girl who has become a nurse, is in the best Dickensian tradition, and Demon gives a harrowing account of his descent into addiction with his beloved Dori (as naïve as Dickens’ Dora in her own screwed-up way). Does knowledge offer a way out of this sinkhole? A committed teacher tries to enlighten Demon’s seventh grade class about how the resource-rich countryside was pillaged and abandoned, but Kingsolver doesn’t air-brush his students’ dismissal of this history or the prejudice encountered by this African American outsider and his White wife. She is an art teacher who guides Demon toward self-expression, just as his friend Tommy provokes his dawning understanding of how their world has been shaped by outside forces and what he might be able to do about it.

An angry, powerful book seething with love and outrage for a community too often stereotyped or ignored.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-325-1922

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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