Poorly organized and emotionally unsatisfying.

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AFTER LIFE

AN ETHNOGRAPHIC NOVEL

Hecht takes a second look at Brazilian street children (following At Home in the Street, 2002) in this combination of fiction and anthropology.

Much of the ethnographic material flows from an adolescent Hecht met during his three trips to Brazil, as he acknowledges upfront: “portions based on the narrations of Bruna Veríssimo.” His introduction primes us for a rich cultural exchange, so it’s disheartening that the long opening section focuses on Zoë’s personal problems, Zoë being a 36-year-old American anthropologist on her second trip to Recife in northeast Brazil. Nine years before, doing research on street kids, she had kept her emotional distance until meeting little Beto; him, she wanted to mother. Now Zoë has a Ph.D., a book published and is back on a sabbatical to write about “home” children, the ones in shacks. But first we must hear about her mother’s death from cancer, her depression, her visit to the shrink for antidepressants, etc. By the time she meets Beto again, she has lost interest in her project, though why it’s not clear. Beto is now a transvestite known as Aparecida. We get her life story (those promised “portions”). She was raped by her stepfather. She misses her family, but returning home is impossible. Street life is dangerous. She is forced to have sex with cops at gunpoint. She sniffs glue. She hates herself (“I was a form of waste”). She has a talent for drawing. When her work is exhibited, she reacts negatively, seeing herself as “a monkey . . . on display.” There are other missed opportunities. Hecht’s stated goal (to use fiction as a way into Aparecida’s mind) collapses when Zoë admits she has no idea what the transvestite thinks.

Poorly organized and emotionally unsatisfying.

Pub Date: March 30, 2006

ISBN: 0-8223-3750-9

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Duke Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2006

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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