An uneven novel that nevertheless provides an accessible introduction to an overlooked hero and the birth of religious...

Rekindled

A fictional reconstruction of Roger Williams’ fight (and flight) for religious freedom in 17th-century England and New England.

In this historical novel, debut author Irizarry traces the steps of the founder of Providence from his childhood in England to his life in Massachusetts and his eventual travel to Rhode Island to escape religious persecution. (The novel chronicles many people and places, but Williams’ life is the thread that ties the story together.) As a smart lad in London, he learns a secret form of shorthand to carry messages from imprisoned religious separatists and, later, to record parliamentary proceedings for a London lawyer and mentor, Sir Edward Coke. Williams grows up to become a minister, hoping someday to preach Christianity to Native Americans. Although he finds himself in opposition to the ruling religious and civil powers, he learns to make connections and compromises. In 1631, he migrates to Massachusetts with his wife, but his religious beliefs soon put him in conflict with Puritan orthodoxy. He flees a court summons, escaping into the frozen wild, where he’s saved by Indians. Eventually, he reaches Narragansett Bay, where he’d purchased the use of land from the Narragansett tribe. Other religious dissidents join him and help found alternative faiths in a community based on religious tolerance. The book ends with an imaginary Q&A between a 21st-century interlocutor and Williams about modern subjects, such as gay marriage. This well-researched novel provides fine portraits of Williams and his contemporaries, and of a crucial but often overlooked chapter in American history. It offers multiple viewpoints—including those of a Puritan, a dissident, and a Narragansett, among others—and some powerful passages: “We are the people of the ages,” a young Nipmuc brave tells Roger. “We came before, and we will stay after.” However, the book could have used more and better physical descriptions of its people and places. The prose also has other weaknesses, including needless explanation (“This was not a good situation,” the narrator notes after John Winthrop the Younger is captured by Pequots) and sometimes-anachronistic narrative language and dialogue—“How’s the missus?” Williams asks a friend—that detract from the otherwise authentic-sounding historical tone.

An uneven novel that nevertheless provides an accessible introduction to an overlooked hero and the birth of religious freedom in the North American colonies.

Pub Date: May 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5049-1123-8

Page Count: 488

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2015

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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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A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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