A strange, distinctly Russian diversion for readers looking for something completely different.

THE BLIZZARD

A country doctor holding the cure to a zombie epidemic struggles through an impossibly stubborn blizzard.

“You have to understand, I simply must keep going!” shouts the frenetic protagonist of this phantasmagoric comic novel as it opens. “There are people waiting for me! They are sick. There’s an epidemic! Don’t you understand?!” Somehow it’s fitting that this third novel in translation by the Russian genius Sorokin (Day of the Oprichnik, 2011, etc.) begins with such urgency even as the author throws every fantastic obstacle imaginable in front of his irascible hero. The man in question is Platon Ilich Garin, a doctor who's in possession of the cure for a mysterious disease that turns its victims into zombies. The outbreak is in the village of Dolgoye, and the good doctor is desperately trying to book passage there, but a snowstorm stymies his efforts at every turn. Frustrated, he hires dimwitted driver Crouper to take him through the tempest, but the storm quickly drives them back. “Don’t even dare think about it,” says the doctor. “The lives of honest workers are in danger! This is an affair of state, man. You and I don’t have the right to turn back. It wouldn’t be Russian. And it wouldn’t be Christian.” Garin is a constantly amusing presence, coming off like Chekhov as channeled by Christopher Lloyd. It’s through him that Sorokin gives voice to his own frustration with the persistence of Russia’s authoritarian culture and its refusal to yield. But the book is stylistically interesting as well. At first it unfolds like a comic play, but as the book progresses, Sorokin crafts an increasingly psychedelic landscape that takes strange turns when Garin trips his brains out. Ultimately, the story doesn’t so much resolve as end, with the arrival of Chinese invaders. It’s not quite a redemption song, but Sorokin surely deserves credit for his madcap imagination.

A strange, distinctly Russian diversion for readers looking for something completely different.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-11437-4

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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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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