Great reading for a flight to Paris. Just stay away from witches, bathtubs and maybe the Metro once you get there—oh, and...

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BABAYAGA

Mix up Mad Men, Russian folklore, James Bond, An American in ParisGorky Park and maybe a hint of Franz Kafka, and you get something like, well, this decidedly odd and most entertaining sophomore novel by Barlow (Sharp Teeth, 2008).

Will Van Wyck is anything but an ugly American, but he’s a bit at sea in the City of Lights. An adman par excellence back home, he’s been slowly stripped of his accounts, ignored at brainstorming sessions where his French counterparts are hopping about to jingles of “Chase your pimples away. Chase your pimples away.” But pimples dissolve, and so do mortals, in the face of the supernatural, as represented by the dazzling, chest-heaving Zoya, whose lover wonders how it is that she manages to stay so young; she hasn’t changed a day since the liberation—or, for that matter, since the Franco-Prussian War, for all we know. Zoya’s got the zazzle of immortality thanks to being turned by a resourceful and oftentimes very bad witch named Elga, who turns up in the story just when mischief is needed, as when said lover winds up in the great beyond and a police detective makes his way to her door, only to be turned into a flea for his troubles. Naturally, Will meets Zoya. Naturally, she puts the zap on him: “There was an essence to her gaze—the way her eyes connected with his—that took the simplest words in his mind and effortlessly broke them down into small, useless heaps of letters.” Meanwhile, Will’s best pal in Paris turns out to be a CIA spook, and there’s all kinds of hijinks to be had there, as, undeterred, Inspector Vidot tours the demimondes of Paris by hitching rides on mangy critters, and Zoya stays a step ahead of the law, the KGB and everyone else who’s got an interest in her wiles. Barlow’s story is goofy, wholly original and a lot of fun, and he ably captures the feel of both the gray 1950s and free-spirited France.

Great reading for a flight to Paris. Just stay away from witches, bathtubs and maybe the Metro once you get there—oh, and spooks, too.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-374-10787-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2013

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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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