A graphic parable of contemporary India delivered in broad brush strokes.

HONOR

An Indian woman who's spent most of her life in the United States develops a bond with a woman in rural India who's been subjected to appalling violence.

Returning to the topic of India’s evolution, Umrigar delivers the discussion through the admittedly biased perspective of Indian-born, U.S.–raised journalist Smita Agarwal. Immigrating with her family to Ohio at age 14, Smita “had vowed never to step foot into India again,” for reasons revealed only late in the book. But then her friend Shannon, the South Asia correspondent for her newspaper, breaks her hip, and Smita, who's vacationing nearby, flies into Mumbai to support her in the hospital. Shannon's injury has forced her to abandon an important story that fits Smita’s beat of gender issues, and Smita now finds herself taking on the assignment, one which will force her to deal “with everything that she detested about this country—its treatment of women, its religious strife, its conservatism.” All these unpleasant traits and more are encapsulated in the tale of Meena Mustafa, a Hindu village girl whose scandalous work in a factory, marriage to Abdul, a Muslim, and pregnancy affront her two brothers, who respond violently “to protect the honor of all Hindus.” They burn Abdul alive, leaving Meena surviving but badly disfigured. Umrigar’s juxtaposition of urban norms with the archaic, impoverished rural hinterland, as well as Abdul’s dreams of himself and Meena as a modern, integrated couple, delivers a clear message but a starkly delineated one, its allegorical quality intensified by one-dimensional supporting characters. The horror and Meena’s intense suffering also contrast uneasily with a late love story for Smita—“He was the best of what India had to offer”—and some binary, not always plausible choices.

A graphic parable of contemporary India delivered in broad brush strokes.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-61620-995-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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

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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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