A lengthy but affecting tale of late sisterhood.

THE SECRETS BETWEEN US

Two elderly Indian women—one poor, the other poorer still—move beyond mutual suspicion to forge a bond, start a business, and, even this late in life, absorb change.

A new marble shopping mall is attacked; an old brothel, scene of terror and enslavement, is replaced by a gleaming high-rise. The profound impact of modernity on India is greeted variously with violence, a measure of relief, and significant shifts in attitude by the characters in Umrigar’s (Everybody’s Son, 2017, etc.) eighth novel, a sequel to The Space Between Us. A more traditional storyteller than Neel Mukherjee, whose recent A State of Freedom also considered seismic social shifts in this immense nation, Umrigar chooses to reflect new India via a pair of aging female characters whose lives of struggle and suffering have not delivered an easeful old age. Bhima is working two cleaning jobs to enable her granddaughter Maya to complete the college course which will, Bhima hopes, lift both of them out of poverty. Parvati, the survivor of an even harsher youth and an abusive marriage, is homeless and ill but still equipped with street savvy and a propulsive, bitter anger. Reluctantly, the pair—living proof that “being a poor woman…is the toughest job in the world”—pool their entrepreneurial talents to start a produce stall, while slowly opening up to each other. Umrigar’s depictions of Mumbai’s chaotic slums and pitiless streets are vivid; her events and moral lessons—Bhima will overcome her own prejudices to love and appreciate a kindly lesbian duo; Parvati will acknowledge that behind her stalwart front she is lonely—are more broadly delineated. These plot predictabilities weaken a female-centered story framed by oppressive masculinity, but its poignancy and descriptive strength help redress the balance.

A lengthy but affecting tale of late sisterhood.

Pub Date: June 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-244220-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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Bestselling Hannah (True Colors, 2009, etc.) sabotages a worthy effort with an overly neat resolution.

WINTER GARDEN

A Russian refugee’s terrible secret overshadows her family life.

Meredith, heir apparent to her family’s thriving Washington State apple enterprises, and Nina, a globetrotting photojournalist, grew up feeling marginalized by their mother. Anya saw her daughters as merely incidental to her grateful love for their father Evan, who rescued her from a German prison camp. The girls know neither their mother’s true age, nor the answers to several other mysteries: her color-blindness, her habit of hoarding food despite the family’s prosperity and the significance of her “winter garden” with its odd Cyrillic-inscribed columns. The only thawing in Anya’s mien occurs when she relates a fairy tale about a peasant girl who meets a prince and their struggles to live happily ever after during the reign of a tyrannical Black Knight. After Evan dies, the family comes unraveled: Anya shows signs of dementia; Nina and Meredith feud over whether to move Mom from her beloved dacha-style home, named Belye Nochi after the summer “white nights” of her native Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Anya, now elderly but of preternaturally youthful appearance—her white hair has been that way as long as the girls can remember—keeps babbling about leather belts boiled for soup, furniture broken up for firewood and other oddities. Prompted by her daughters’ snooping and a few vodka-driven dinners, she grudgingly divulges her story. She is not Anya, but Vera, sole survivor of a Russian family; her father, grandmother, mother, sister, husband and two children were all lost either to Stalin’s terror or during the German army’s siege of Leningrad. Anya’s chronicle of the 900-day siege, during which more than half a million civilians perished from hunger and cold, imparts new gravitas to the novel, easily overwhelming her daughters’ more conventional “issues.” The effect, however, is all but vitiated by a manipulative and contrived ending.

Bestselling Hannah (True Colors, 2009, etc.) sabotages a worthy effort with an overly neat resolution.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-36412-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2009

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