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 compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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