Brilliant, riveting, conscience-driven political novel: rank it with the greats.

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THE TYRANT’S NOVEL

Australia’s Keneally (Office of Innocence, 2003, etc., etc.) offers the most significant American novel of some time, much as Graham Greene in 1955 with The Quiet American.

The setting isn’t Saigon but the capital city of a Middle Eastern state tyrannized by “Great Uncle” and his secret police, the “Overguard.” Any doubts that Iraq is meant dissipate quickly as we learn that poison gas was used in a recent war (against the “Others”), that Great Uncle’s nation is under Western economic sanctions that cripple the poor and hurt all—or that one of Great Uncle’s sons shot dead two leaders of the national soccer team after they’d lost the World Cup. Desolate and corrupt, both city and nation are bled dry, oppressed by tyranny from within and sanctions from without—and Keneally brings it all to life with a gritty, uncompromising vividness equal to Greene’s Saigon or Winston Smith’s London. The central figure is Alan Sheriff, author of a highly praised book of stories drawn from his experience as a young soldier in the war against the Others. Indeed, life holds promise for Alan, whose first novel is almost finished, with already a lot of money in the bank from it. But calamity visits when an aneurism kills Sarah, Alan’s beloved and nationally famous actress-wife. In his grief, he deep-sixes his computer, then buries with Sarah the only remaining copy of his novel (it was for her, after all). Soon afterward, a summons: Alan is arrested, blindfolded, and taken to an audience with Great Uncle himself, who gives Alan an offer he can’t refuse: one month to write an emotion-arousing novel to be published in the West under Great Uncle’s name to stir up world opposition to the sanctions, all this before the coming G-7 meetings in Montreal. And so Alan wrestles with time, conscience, grief, desire, despair, and the blank page in ways no reader—certainly no American reader—will easily forget.

Brilliant, riveting, conscience-driven political novel: rank it with the greats.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-385-51146-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged white mom and her black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a black boy hoping to go with a white girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

DEAR EDWARD

A 12-year-old boy is the sole survivor of a plane crash—a study in before and after.

Edward Adler is moving to California with his adored older brother, Jordan, and their parents: Mom is a scriptwriter for television, Dad is a mathematician who is home schooling his sons. They will get no further than Colorado, where the plane goes down. Napolitano’s (A Good Hard Look, 2011, etc.) novel twins the narrative of the flight from takeoff to impact with the story of Edward’s life over the next six years. Taken in by his mother’s sister and her husband, a childless couple in New Jersey, Edward’s misery is constant and almost impermeable. Unable to bear sleeping in the never-used nursery his aunt and uncle have hastily appointed to serve as his bedroom, he ends up bunking next door, where there's a kid his age, a girl named Shay. This friendship becomes the single strand connecting him to the world of the living. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, we meet all the doomed airplane passengers, explore their backstories, and learn about their hopes and plans, every single one of which is minutes from obliteration. For some readers, Napolitano’s premise will be too dark to bear, underlining our terrible vulnerability to random events and our inability to protect ourselves or our children from the worst-case scenario while also imagining in exhaustive detail the bleak experience of survival. The people around Edward have no idea how to deal with him; his aunt and uncle try their best to protect him from the horrors of his instant celebrity as Miracle Boy. As one might expect, there is a ray of light for Edward at the end of the tunnel, and for hardier readers this will make Napolitano’s novel a story of hope.

Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-5478-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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