An ambitious, artful, and winding tale of a family in search of its moorings.

THE RECENT EAST

A broken family makes an uncomfortable transition into former Communist Germany in this moody debut novel.

Grattan’s family drama centers on three characters: Beate Haas, who as a girl escaped from East Germany with her parents in 1968, and the two children she later had in the United States, Adela and Michael. In 1990, with the Berlin Wall collapsed, Beate inherits her family home in Kritzhagen, a small town in the former East. Adela and Michael, 12 and 13 at the time, uneasily adjust to a place that “had gone from prom queen to old maid in a single season”: Michael keeps busy looting abandoned houses while furtively exploring relationships with men while Adela lends support to the demonized occupants of a nearby refugee camp. Beate, meanwhile, despondent after splitting with her husband, wanders the streets at night, eventually stumbling into a job cutting hair at a bar. In the early going, the book feels like a gothic novel with a Brutalist severity: The characters are so downcast and the home so haunted by the past that emotional escape seems impossible. But when the narrative leaps back into the 1970s and forward to the 21st century, the novel brightens as the characters’ motivations and experiences deepen. Michael settles into a job running a bar with a Stasi theme, Beate pursues new relationships, and Adela leaves the country just as her mom did. In the meantime, cousins and lovers provide emotional support while neofascism and homophobia buffet the family emotionally and physically. Grattan is a graceful writer and keen observer of family dynamics; the domestic themes, realist style, and emphasis on German culture can’t help but recall Jonathan Franzen. But the energy Grattan expends on characterization doesn’t quite extend to the plot, which feels shapeless despite some dramatic flare-ups. The lassitude is somewhat intentional, though: When you’re as disoriented as this clan is, Grattan suggests, there truly is no place like home.

An ambitious, artful, and winding tale of a family in search of its moorings.

Pub Date: March 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-3742-4793-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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