A difficult but ultimately rewarding meditation on the tolls that capitalism and misogyny take on a fledgling nation's soul.

THIS MOURNABLE BODY

A haunting, incisive, and timely glimpse into how misogyny and class strife shape life in post-colonial Zimbabwe.

Returning to characters she first introduced in her debut novel, Nervous Conditions (1988), Zimbabwean author Dangarembga situates us in the mind of Tambudzai Sigauke, an educated but insecure and selfish young woman who is plummeting rapidly down her nation's class hierarchy. Bitter after leaving her job at an ad agency “over a matter of mere principle,” Tambudzai takes up residence at a hostel while she hatches a scheme to claw her way back up the social ladder. Her scheming eventually takes her to a high school teaching job, where the pressures of teaching unruly students tax her fragile mental health. Driven to rage by her inability to command her students' respect, Tambudzai brutally beats and injures a student named Elizabeth Chinembiri. The event triggers a mental breakdown and sets Tambudzai on a tragic collision course with her estranged family. Narrated in the second person from Tambudzai's perspective, the novel collapses the distance between its readers and its antihero ("You spend most of your time sitting on your bed, brooding over your new misjudgement"). The effect is claustrophobic and alarming, as the reader becomes implicated in Tambudzai's conniving—and sometimes outright immoral—behavior. When she participates in a mob's fevered sexual assault of a female hostel roommate, conspires to lure a married man into infidelity, or steals vegetables from her landlady's garden, it's not just Tambudzai who performs these actions—it's you. Tambudzai's behavior is so persistently self-centered that she can be somewhat flat and unappealing; social advancement is her only motivation, and it can be difficult to sympathize with a character whose moral compass is so degraded. Her flatness is easy to overlook, however, because this novel's true protagonist is the entire nation of Zimbabwe. Tambudzai becomes a stand-in for a society struggling to gain its footing and maintain its soul amid the trauma of civil war and economic and political instability. In terse, stark prose that paints a brutally realist portrait of post-colonial Zimbabwe, Dangarembga turns an appraising eye upon her nation in order to investigate the various inequalities that lie at its heart. This novel's Zimbabwe is a nation populated by cruel mobs, exploitative entrepreneurs, and mercenaries who care only about themselves. Her incisive realism is most effective when dealing with misogyny, especially the vicious violence inflicted on women's bodies. The mournable body of the novel's title turns out to be the collective body of Zimbabwean women.

A difficult but ultimately rewarding meditation on the tolls that capitalism and misogyny take on a fledgling nation's soul.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-55597-812-9

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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