A collection offers an evocative and insightful—though far from positive—view of humanity.

INFERNO OF SILENCE

(A COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES)

A short story collection explores the lives of Nigerian men and women.

In this volume, Akinyemi takes readers into the minds and inner lives of Nigerians, particularly men, at home and abroad. In “Black Lives Matter,” a soccer player channels both grief and ambition into success in a European league only to find himself confronting racism. “In the Trap of Seers” has a female protagonist, a woman whose mother drags her to one spiritual guru after another. In “Inferno of Silence,” Kunle endures his wife’s abuse, which challenges the cultural assumption that husbands are dominant. Another failing marriage is the focus of “Blinded by Silence,” in which a woman determined to avoid her parents’ fate ends up following in their footsteps. The stories explore questions of masculinity, family, and identity, and the characters reveal the variety of experiences in contemporary Nigeria, from traditional villages to college campuses to skyscraper-dwelling tech companies. Akinyemi employs a distinctive and evocative prose style (“His dirty linens were not just washed in public, they were sun-dried and left for the whole-world to cast derisory glances at”) that leaves readers with a clear image of the people and places he describes. But readers accustomed to standard American English may find the writing awkward at times (for instance, a character is referred to as “the Chinese”). The characters can be insufferable (“I had the chance to showcase my exceptional talent to the entire world”), but they are generally satisfying in the context of their tales. The players’ complexity and diversity of backgrounds and experiences provide a layered and nuanced look—if, perhaps, a jaded one—at the lives of an assortment of Nigerians. While a few of the stories end on relatively upbeat notes, with characters overcoming obstacles and moving beyond troubled pasts, the collection as a whole seems intent on showing how determined people are to cause problems for themselves and others. The book is not necessarily an uplifting read, but it is an engaging one, with an eye for vivid details and human shortcomings.

A collection offers an evocative and insightful—though far from positive—view of humanity.

Pub Date: May 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-913636-02-9

Page Count: 214

Publisher: The Roaring Lion Newcastle

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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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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A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

LAPVONA

A peasant boy gets an introduction to civilization, such as it is.

Moshfegh’s gloomy fifth novel is set in the medieval village of Lapvona, ruled by Villiam, who’s paranoid and cruel when he’s not inept. (For instance, he sends murderous bandits into town if he hears of dissent among the farmers.) Marek, a 13-year-old boy, is becoming increasingly curious about his brutish provenance. He questions whether his mother indeed died in childbirth, as his father, Jude, insists. (The truth is more complicated, of course.) He struggles to reconcile the disease and death he witnesses with the stories of a forgiving God he was raised with. His sole source of comfort is Ina, the village wet nurse. During the course of the year tracked by the novel, Marek finds his way to Villiam, who fills his time with farcical and occasionally grotesque behavior. Villiam’s right-hand man, the village priest, is comically ignorant about Scripture, and Villiam compels Marek and a woman assistant into some scatological antics. The fact that another assistant is named Clod gives a sense of the intellectual atmosphere. Which is to say that the novel is constructed from familiar Moshfegh-ian stuff: dissolute characters, a willful rejection of social norms, the occasional gross-out. At her best, she’s worked that material into stark, brilliant character studies (Eileen, 2015) or contemporary satires (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2018). Here, though, the tone feels stiff and the story meanders. The Middle Ages provide a promising setting for her—she describes a social milieu that’s only clumsily established hierarchies, religion, and an economy, and she wants us to question whether we’ve evolved much beyond it. But the assortment of dim characters and perverse delusions does little more than repetitively expose the brutality of (as Villiam puts it) “this stupid life.”

A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-30026-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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