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

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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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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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