THE TINSMITH

A haunting tale of quiet courage and friendship in the face of racism, corruption and cruelty that runs from the Battle of Antietam to a remote fishing village in British Columbia.

Anson Baird, an assistant surgeon in the Union Army tending to soldiers wounded in America’s bloodiest day of battle, befriends an escaped, light-skinned slave. Suspecting the escapee to be on the run after murdering his sadistic overseer, Baird gives him the identity of a dead Union soldier, William Dare. The story is rife with the horrors of the Civil War and slavery: Doctors stack soldiers’ amputated arms and legs like cordwood; a hired hand mercilessly whips a naked, pregnant slave; blacks, whites, Chinese and Native Americans die brutally. Bowling probes the deadly persistent affliction of American racism with a steady, sensitive hand, as Dare’s contemporaries accept, reject, torture or conspire against him based on their assessment of whether he’s white or black. Following the Civil War scenes of slaughter and brutality, the book skips nearly 20 years ahead and thousands of miles west to the Fraser River in Canada, where Dare has established himself as the successful owner of a salmon cannery “in a world indifferent and even hostile to virtue.” Yet the scourge of racism stays with him like the brand on his cheek that he tries to conceal. When the competing, corrupt cannery owners play the race card against him in an effort to drive him out of business, Dare summons his old friend Baird and fights back, overcoming his oppressors only “to find nothing in life but deceit and shadows” and “something that couldn’t be killed even if he used all his strength.” Bowling has crafted a powerful, beautiful, tragic and sometimes eerie novel marred only by the clumsiness of a few bit players’ stilted dialects: a Scot’s “dinnas” become grating after a while, and a Swede’s phlegmatic utterances sound out of place and awkward. Other than those faint quibbles, though, the story makes for a searing yet subtle treatment of racism, greed, good and evil.

A dynamic, dazzling yarn.

Pub Date: March 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-1926972435

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Brindle & Glass

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2012

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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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