The tumultuous history of the crisis-torn Balkans rendered in a gripping panoramic novel.

WINDS OF DALMATIA

A HISTORICAL NOVEL

This sweeping historical fiction, the first in a projected trilogy, covers 10 centuries in the history of Dalmatia, in the former Yugoslavia.

The framing device of Tuma’s novel is the life and memories of Maria Peric, a 66-year-old historian and hotel owner on the peaceful Croatian island of Pag, in the Adriatic Sea. She’s the doting grandmother of Paula, a young girl suffering from leukemia, and to distract the child, she tells stories about the long history of Dalmatia and the Balkan region. Maria has her own traumatic history: “Like thousands of Croatians, Bosnians and Serbians from former Yugoslavia, I am one of the victims of that bloody Balkan war ravaging the heart of Europe in the nineties.” But in the book’s ensuing chapters, Maria tells Paula dramatic stories from the past, starting with the ancient Greeks of the sixth century B.C. and moving on to the Roman emperor Diocletian (“still the most important politician of all times coming from our shores”) and to the 14th-century empire of Ragusa, which controlled the world’s trade routes and grappled with the mighty Venetian Republic. The narrative moves on to the Ottoman Empire and eventually to the rebirth and fall of modern 20th-century Yugoslavia. By pausing the narrative and using fiction to illuminate daily life in each era, Tuma’s dramatization is reminiscent of Rebecca West and James Michener. The momentum of all that history brings the book to the present, to the trial of a Yugoslavian war criminal at The Hague, forming the backdrop for a jarring transition to the book’s second half, which abandons history and deals with the modern-day politics and daily lives of a disparate group of survivors of the recent Balkan wars. The prose throughout can be clunky and a bit prone to cliché, while the relationships in the present day—especially those involving the overly saintly Paula—are curiously less convincing than any of those set in the past. Still, Tuma’s human insights and her considerable scene-painting abilities shed great amounts of light on a region and a people often overlooked in historical fiction, and subsequent volumes should help sharpen the focus on the modern era.

The tumultuous history of the crisis-torn Balkans rendered in a gripping panoramic novel.

Pub Date: June 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4839-6922-0

Page Count: 516

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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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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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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