An inventive concoction but a middling book; though without the grating ineptitude of Dan Brown, also without the charm of a...

THE LOST CIVILIZATION OF SUOLUCIDIR

An Umberto Eco–lite literary mystery spanning continents and centuries.

A globe-straddling scientist with an eye for loot: check. An arcane trove that just may (or may not) force a revision of the way we think about things: check. This isn’t your grandpa’s Indiana Jones, though. Daitch (Paper Conspiracies, 2011, etc.) presents an intrepid protagonist of shifting identity—not a bad strategy to take when nefarious people are after the same thing he is, one made more urgent when the newspaper prints his obituary, leaving it to him to decide “whether the risks of reinventing myself are life shattering or way more inconsequential than you think.” Smart, though a bit of a schmo, working with a trove of ancient documents that have come to him as if by fate, he begins to reconstruct the ancient civilization of Suolucidir—and that, in turn, draws in other stories by other seekers, a whole swirl of yarns, some shaggy dog (“Antonov believes that Suolucidir was a center for ancient pornography”) and some more or less straightforward (“Though Ryder wasn’t ordinarily a superstitious man, the plates’ proximity to the beheaded skeleton made him leery of keeping them in his possession”). That the whole thing is a sendup is evident when you turn the word of the ancient place around, and in the end, that effort seems curious; the story plays straight just as well as it does with its postmodern flourishes. Slow to unfold, it has the self-satisfied air of the postmodern as well, though the broad range of allusions and references is entertaining to behold—on one page Krazy Kat, on another Josef Stalin, Winston Churchill, and the shah of Iran. And you have to give points to any yarn with a character named Shuki Fingers Feigen.

An inventive concoction but a middling book; though without the grating ineptitude of Dan Brown, also without the charm of a Stanislaw Lem or Jorge Luis Borges.

Pub Date: June 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-87286-700-0

Page Count: 332

Publisher: City Lights

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2016

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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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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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