Very deftly handled: Italian poet Bortolussi’s debut has a light touch that keeps Cardo from taking himself too...

HEAD ABOVE WATER

Middle-aged writer awkwardly attempts to make peace with his past—and grow up while he’s at it.

Riccardo (“Cardo”) Mariano has a knack for falling in love with women during shipwrecks. A novelist from Milan, Cardo met Solveig (“Sol”) in a coastal town in Norway when she accidentally sank his dinghy by ramming it with her father’s fishing boat. It wasn’t the best introduction imaginable, but it worked: Sol eventually became Cardo’s lover, moved to Italy with him, and became pregnant with his child. Before the baby was born, however, Cardo made the mistake of coming to the aid of Cate, a young woman whose kayak had run aground off a tiny island near his rowing club. As he struggled to extricate her craft, both Cate and Cardo fell overboard—and into each other’s arms. Guilt-ridden, Cardo later confessed his adultery to Sol, who promptly packed up and returned to Norway to have the baby on her own. Alone and out of sorts, Cardo began to look over the mess he had made of his life. The son of a Milanese businessman who abandoned the family after the death of Cardo’s younger brother Michele, Cardo had grown up in the 1970s and was a true son of his age: He was nihilistic, angry, and self-indulgent. Deeply involved in the various Marxist sects that dominated Italy in the post-Vietnam years, Cardo had never really had any strong political convictions and he dropped his involvements eventually as easily as he dropped most of his girlfriends. Now he began to see that his rootlessness had something to do with the death of Michele, and his attempts to sort out his feelings toward his dead brother serve to clarify his longings for Sol and their child. Before long, he makes another trip to Norway.

Very deftly handled: Italian poet Bortolussi’s debut has a light touch that keeps Cardo from taking himself too seriously—and thereby keeps all of this from veering into a swamp of sentimentality and self-absorption.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2003

ISBN: 0-87286-426-X

Page Count: 186

Publisher: City Lights

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2003

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

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CIRCE

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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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