A memorable chronicle about “the bitterness of exile” and the endurance of the spirit.


A headstrong young woman and her brother attempt to rebuild their lives in a refugee camp.

At the opening of Addonia’s novel, court is in session. For the refugees in a Sudanese camp for those fleeing Eritrea, trials are held in the ersatz cinema where skits are sometimes put on with cardboard figures. The accused is a young woman called Saba; her alleged crime, incest with her mute brother, Hagos. As Saba awaits her verdict, the novel takes us back in time to illuminate how so many in the community have turned on her. Stubborn, intelligent, and bold, Saba excelled at school and wanted to attend university before her life was uprooted. She also has complicated ancestry: half-Eritrean, half-Ethiopian, “half from an occupied country and the other half from the occupying....Half of her was at war with the other half.” Saba’s more traditionally masculine qualities are balanced by Hagos, who is “the girl [their] mother had always wanted,” taking care of the domestic work and taking an interest in Saba’s hair, makeup, and clothing. Unable to understand either sibling’s unorthodoxies, the growing community in the camp attempts to police their adherence to traditions. As more refugees arrive, Saba and Hagos draw increasing scrutiny until these outside forces threaten to overwhelm their seemingly unbreakable bond. Addonia’s greatest strength is the arresting image, imbued with symbolism—as when a man tears a newspaper into pieces and the crowd scatters “in different directions with broken sentences” or when a girl is sentenced to physically carry the man she allegedly seduced on her back through the camp as punishment—while the novel’s vignette structure underscores the fragmentary, hallucinatory quality of trauma and memory.

A memorable chronicle about “the bitterness of exile” and the endurance of the spirit.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64445-033-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

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What happens when a midlist author steals a manuscript and publishes it as her own?

June Hayward and Athena Liu went to Yale together, moved to D.C. after graduation, and are both writers, but the similarities end there. While June has had little success since publication and is struggling to write her second novel, Athena has become a darling of the publishing industry, much to June’s frustration. When Athena suddenly dies, June, almost accidentally, walks off with her latest manuscript, a novel about the World War I Chinese Labour Corps. June edits the novel and passes it off as her own, and no one seems the wiser, but once the novel becomes a smash success, cracks begin to form. When June faces social media accusations and staggering writer’s block, she can’t shake the feeling that someone knows the truth about what she’s done. This satirical take on racism and success in the publishing industry at times veers into the realm of the unbelievable, but, on the whole, witnessing June’s constant casual racism and flimsy justifications for her actions is somehow cathartic. Yes, publishing is like this; finally someone has written it out. At times, the novel feels so much like a social media feed that it’s impossible to stop reading—what new drama is waiting to unfold. and who will win out in the end? An incredibly meta novel, with commentary on everything from trade reviews to Twitter, the ultimate message is clear from the start, which can lead to a lack of nuance. Kuang, however, does manage to leave some questions unanswered: fodder, perhaps, for a new tweetstorm.

A quick, biting critique of the publishing industry.

Pub Date: May 16, 2023

ISBN: 9780063250833

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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