Atmospheric, romantic, yet refreshingly acerbic—Joinson’s timely portrayal of the difficult relationships between different...

THE PHOTOGRAPHER'S WIFE

In Joinson’s second exploration of British misadventures abroad (A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar, 2012), a lonely 11-year-old in 1920 Jerusalem witnesses and inadvertently participates in adult intrigues, both political and personal, which haunt her later life as a troubled artist. 

After her mother’s commitment to an asylum, Prue is living at Jerusalem’s Hotel Fast with her father, Charles, an architect planning a system of English-style gardens for the city. Ignored by Charles, Prue attaches herself to Eleanora, the young British wife of Arab photographer Khaled Rasul, and to Ihsan, who’s been hired to teach Prue Arabic. Encouraged by Ihsan, Prue spies on the adults around her, often misconstruing events and relationships, especially after the arrival of the emotionally damaged British Word War I pilot William, whom Eleanora knew in England. As the arrogant British powers that be reluctantly try to confront an officer running amok killing locals, Prue finds herself in the middle of horrendous violence. Interwoven with Prue’s childhood is the story of her life as an artist and mother back in England. In 1937, Prue has left her foppish British husband, Piers, and lives in Shoreham with her small son, Skip; she's preparing a show of her sculpture when William pays her a visit. A moving, disturbed, and disturbing character in his own right, William tells Prue that Ihsan has died and asks for an envelope Ihsan left with her on a visit to England in 1933. While Joinson layers on a John le Carré–lite plot involving British intelligence, what matters are the memories that flood back for Prue, showing how the demons from her childhood have contributed to both her creativity and her difficulties as a wife and mother. While Prue and William have dark pasts, Joinson wisely allows for degrees of redemption and growth in each.

Atmospheric, romantic, yet refreshingly acerbic—Joinson’s timely portrayal of the difficult relationships between different cultures is rivaled by her heartbreaking delineation of the fragile relationships between individuals.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62040-830-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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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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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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