A surprisingly moving war novel alert to global violence and politics but thriving on the character level.

CORRESPONDENTS

Love and war connect characters in the U.S. and Middle East in this family saga from Murphy (Christodora, 2016).

Though this finely tuned, well-researched novel covers nearly a century, its core is the post–9/11 Iraq War, the divisions that created its senseless agonies, and the cultural similarities that might ameliorate them. Central to the story is Bostonian Rita Khoury, the daughter of a doctor of Christian Lebanese descent and a mother from Irish stock; to better relate to her father, she studies Arabic in high school and college, rising to become a reporter in Iraq just as the war begins in 2003. Assisting her with dialect and the finer points of Iraqi life is Nabil, who earns decent pay from the paper (a barely veiled stand-in for the New York Times) but risks becoming a target for assisting Americans. (He also harbors a life-endangering secret central to the novel’s final acts.) From the book’s punning title on down, Murphy traces echoes across cultures, how each character is more of a mixture of heritages than simplified media coverage shows, and how Rita and Nabil (and their extended families) are both empowered and complicated by their histories. Murphy’s delivery of this point isn’t glib or simplistic, and the novel is infused with the complexities of Arabic language and culture; well-turned depictions of life in Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut; and scenes capturing the anxiety and drudgery of war reporting. (Only a paranoid American bigot, introduced late in the book, feels relatively flimsy.) For all its wealth of detail, the novel is propulsive and engrossing and rooted in the simplest of storytelling points: Empathy can erase prejudice. From Rita and Nabil’s friendship to the family relationships that unwittingly shaped their lives, Murphy delivers a fresh, affecting restatement of that time-honored message.

A surprisingly moving war novel alert to global violence and politics but thriving on the character level.

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2937-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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