Of some interest to students of contemporary German literature.

THE JOY OF SORCERY

German novelist Nadolny conjures up a slow-moving tale that takes in the sweep of modern European history through the eyes of a wizard.

It’s hard to write about magic these days without inviting comparison to J.K. Rowling, but Pahroc, Nadolny’s protagonist, is no Harry Potter. Of improbable origin—his father was a Paiute Indian who “could ride bareback, shoot a bow and arrow, and dance like a god” but whose greatest ambition was to be a German—Pahroc is an old man when we meet him, writing long letters to his granddaughter Mathilda, who shares some of his magical powers. About those powers, Pahroc is ambivalent: He points out repeatedly that while sorcerers are able to do certain things that ordinary mortals can’t, on the whole those ordinary mortals lead happier lives: “It’s normal men and women who turn out to be shooting stars,” he writes. Certainly the sorcerers don’t have Potter’s gracefulness: To fly, Pahroc recounts, you have to zoom as high as you can, then flatten out and glide toward some earthbound object on which you’ve fixed your sight, then repeat the process. That’s good enough for Pahroc to have gotten away from Stalingrad even as his childhood nemesis, another sorcerer named Schneidebein, or Cut Leg (“sounds like cutlet!” Pahroc exclaims), signs up for the Nazi cause and works a little magic on behalf of the Führer. Pahroc joins the resistance, but because ethical sorcerers aren’t really supposed to use their powers to kill or to influence the course of history, his contributions aren’t very distinguished. The story owes something to Hermann Hesse, but along with the Harry Potter stories, it bears comparison to Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum, which treads on similar territory more memorably. The reader will benefit by knowing some of the basics of 20th-century German history, including the country’s division after World War II.

Of some interest to students of contemporary German literature.

Pub Date: June 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-58988-146-4

Page Count: 265

Publisher: Paul Dry Books

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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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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