Lush with tropical heat and heated emotions, this is no easy read but impossible to put down.


Ratner (In the Shadow of the Banyon, 2012), a survivor of the Khmer Rouge years in Cambodia, has written a novel-length smot, a form of "poetry sung in honor of loved ones, living or dead."

As in two other recent novels concerning life under communist regimes—Elizabeth Kostova’s The Shadow Land, about Bulgaria, and Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, about China—music is central to this tale. In 1979, 13-year-old Suteera and her aunt Amara escaped Cambodia, the only members of their family to survive. Despite the comfortable lives they achieve in America, Suteera, now called Teera, remains haunted by the mystery surrounding her father’s early disappearance. After Amara’s death in 2003, 37-year-old Teera flies to Cambodia to visit Wat Nagara, a Buddhist temple where her aunt bequeathed a memorial to all who perished during the Khmer Rouge years. Coincidentally, Teera has recently received a letter from a stranger offering her musical instruments he claims her father gave him while they were imprisoned together. The stranger is Tun, a former musician weighed down by enormous guilt over choices he made during the war years and deep grief over the daughter he lost. Now poor and disabled, he lives at Wat Nagara, where he heard about Teera from the abbot. Teera and Tun’s awkward first meeting stirs up memories for each. Meanwhile Teera begins a love affair with Tun’s friend Dr. Narunn, a former novice monk who runs a medical clinic. Also orphaned during the war years, Narunn chooses to embrace life despite his difficult past. The novel is organized in three movements: the first is a careful exposition of grief and unresolved remorse as themes; the fast-tempoed second covers a period of months as the characters interact with each other while remembering individual pasts of “so much cruelty, so much generosity”; the third resolves the initial themes while attaching hope—for the human characters and possibly Cambodia, Ratner’s true central character.

Lush with tropical heat and heated emotions, this is no easy read but impossible to put down.

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9578-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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This new Baldwin novel is told by a 19-year-old black girl named Tish in a New York City ghetto about how she fell in love with a young black man, Fonny. He got framed on a rape charge and she got pregnant before they could marry and move into their loft; but Tish and her family Finance a trip to Puerto Rico to track down the rape victim and rescue Fonny, a sculptor with slanted eyes and treasured independence. The book is anomalous for the 1970's with its Raisin in the Sun wholesomeness. It is sometimes saccharine, but it possesses a genuinely sweet and free spirit too. Along with the reflex sprinkles of hate-whitey, there are powerful showdowns between the two black families, and a Frieze of people who — unlike Fonny's father — gave up and "congregated on the garbage heaps of their lives." The style wobbles as Tish mixes street talk with lyricism and polemic and a bogus kind of Young Adult hesitancy. Baldwin slips past the conflict between fighting the garbage heap and settling into a long-gone private chianti-chisel-and-garret idyll, as do Fonny and Tish and the baby. But Baldwin makes the affirmation of the humanity of black people which is all too missing in various kinds of Superfly and sub-fly novels.

Pub Date: May 24, 1974

ISBN: 0307275930

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1974

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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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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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