A head-spinning tour through the corridors of history and popular culture, and one of this sly entertainer’s liveliest yet.

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THE MYSTERIOUS FLAME OF QUEEN LOANA

An experience of “retrograde amnesia” stimulates journeys into both the darkened past and the undisclosed future—in the celebrated Italian polymath’s fifth erudite doorstopper (Baudolino, 2002, etc.).

Sixtyish book dealer Giambattista (“Yambo”) Bodoni awakens in a Milan hospital after a heart attack that has erased all memory of his own life while leaving every scrap of every book, comic strip, pop song, movie and the like he has ever experienced perfectly intact. This splendid premise yields rich comedy in early pages that describe Yambo’s bemused return to the home and family he no longer recognizes. Complications multiply when his wife Paola (a highly intelligent psychologist) persuades Yambo to retreat to Solaro, the country home owned by his grandfather (also a bookseller), where Yambo spent much of his childhood. Rummaging through old books and newspapers, letters, photographs, school notebooks and other memorabilia, Yambo retrieves details that partially explain his lifelong fascination with the phenomenon of fog and the concept of the “mysterious flame” that, he senses, quickens his imagination—and is “reminded” of Lila Saba, the girl he first loved. Then Eco throws things into another gear, as a “second incident” puts Yambo back in hospital, and into a coma in which his memory returns. We learn how he grew up in “Il Duce’s” Italy, forsaking a religious conversion for the promises of sex, and surviving a perilous wartime adventure every bit the equal of his storybook heroes’ exploits. Finally, attended by all the figures who graced his reading and dreaming, Yambo prepares himself for his reunion with Lila Saba. This charming story’s considerable self-indulgence is largely vitiated by dozens of wonderful period illustrations, the fun of trying to recognize numerous mangled literary and subliterary quotations, and its protagonist’s ebullient (however damaged) sensibility.

A head-spinning tour through the corridors of history and popular culture, and one of this sly entertainer’s liveliest yet.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-15-101140-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2005

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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