Aiming for a story of human connection to the universe, this novel falters after a strong start.

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LATITUDES OF LONGING

A promising debut novel sweeps through a series of stories that join human lives to the natural world in South Asia.

The first book of fiction by Mumbai-based journalist Swarup is made up of four linked novellas. Their titles—Islands, Faultline, Valley, and Snow Desert—suggest the book’s emphasis on how people connect (or don’t) to their planet. Islands is a strong start, the engaging story of an arranged marriage between two very different people that grows into genuine love. Girija Prasad, India born and Oxford educated, is a man of science. His bride, Chanda Devi, has more education than many Indian women but is also a mystic who routinely speaks to ghosts and trees and can sometimes see the future. In the middle of the 20th century, Girija’s government job takes them to the remote, wildly beautiful Andaman Islands, a penal colony under the British Empire that newly independent India is trying to figure out what to do with. The book vividly recounts their often humorous, sometimes surreal, and ultimately touching relationship. The subsequent three sections are not as well developed. Faultline delves into the lives of Mary, a Burmese woman who was Girija and Chanda’s housekeeper, and her son, a political prisoner in Burma who has renamed himself Plato. Valley branches off from that section to follow Plato’s best friend, a smuggler from Nepal. Thapa is “a man nearing sixty, besotted by a girl young enough to be his granddaughter” whom he meets in a dance bar in Kathmandu. Thapa’s travels lead to the final section, Snow Desert, and the story of Apo, the aged leader of an isolated village in the icy Karakoram Mountains, in the no-man’s land between Pakistan and India. In all of the sections, the author writes of characters’ many visions of geological time and of the web of life endangered by human actions: “In the approaching horizon of the future, the calamity is a certain uncertainty, the greatest one there ever will be. It links them all.” Visions are remarkable experiences that are notoriously difficult to capture in language, and here they fall into ineffectual repetition.

Aiming for a story of human connection to the universe, this novel falters after a strong start.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13255-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

DEAR EDWARD

A 12-year-old boy is the sole survivor of a plane crash—a study in before and after.

Edward Adler is moving to California with his adored older brother, Jordan, and their parents: Mom is a scriptwriter for television, Dad is a mathematician who is home schooling his sons. They will get no further than Colorado, where the plane goes down. Napolitano’s (A Good Hard Look, 2011, etc.) novel twins the narrative of the flight from takeoff to impact with the story of Edward’s life over the next six years. Taken in by his mother’s sister and her husband, a childless couple in New Jersey, Edward’s misery is constant and almost impermeable. Unable to bear sleeping in the never-used nursery his aunt and uncle have hastily appointed to serve as his bedroom, he ends up bunking next door, where there's a kid his age, a girl named Shay. This friendship becomes the single strand connecting him to the world of the living. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, we meet all the doomed airplane passengers, explore their backstories, and learn about their hopes and plans, every single one of which is minutes from obliteration. For some readers, Napolitano’s premise will be too dark to bear, underlining our terrible vulnerability to random events and our inability to protect ourselves or our children from the worst-case scenario while also imagining in exhaustive detail the bleak experience of survival. The people around Edward have no idea how to deal with him; his aunt and uncle try their best to protect him from the horrors of his instant celebrity as Miracle Boy. As one might expect, there is a ray of light for Edward at the end of the tunnel, and for hardier readers this will make Napolitano’s novel a story of hope.

Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-5478-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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