Africa. Some time in the recent past, before so much of the continent became "closed down or. . . full of blood." Somewhere in the interior, a rebellion-flattened town in a country that, "like others in Africa, had had its troubles after independence." To this ghost town at the bend in the great river comes the narrator, Salim, an Indian from East Africa who has bought the town's makeshift general store from a fellow Indian; and history-watcher Naipaul uses Salim's stay as the springboard for a meditation on the uncertain progress of post-colonial black Africa. It turns out that Salim has timed his purchase well: he's there at the start of a post-rebellion boom, as the new "Big Man" president in the capital plans big, modern things for the country. Salim's entrepreneur friend, an elderly Indian, acquires the Bigburger franchise for the town. A wasteland a few miles away is transformed into "the Domain"—a university city/research center that attracts European advisers, including an Africa expert ("the Big Man's white man") whose French wife has an unlovely, uninteresting affair with Salim. And Salim begins to feel part of the country, inspired by the Big Man even while seeing that it's all a hoax: "to understand the President's purpose was to be affected by it." But massive disillusion will set in, of course, as the Big Man fails to follow through and bloodthirsty youth squads spring up in the bush. All foreigners are endangered by a new "radicalization" policy: Salim loses his store and saves his skin only because of his friendship with a young black—son of one of Salim's market-woman customers—who is now a faceless, uniformed official after having gone through all the roles of a "new man of Africa." Naipaul's gloomy vision of post-colonial Africa is sure to attract interest, especially since it creepily coincides with his brother Shiva's far less compassionate African journey, North of South (p. 371). But, though the Naipaul prose here is as gracefully moody as ever, the interplay between think-book and novel-of-character doesn't work at all: Salim remains an uninvolving personality throughout, and the cross-cultural themes are carved out much too thickly—often in long chunks of dialogue. This should have been an essay, perhaps, and one or two short stories; as a novel, it's listless—as a framework for ideas, it's never less than provocative.

Pub Date: May 16, 1979

ISBN: 0679722025

Page Count: 290

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1979

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.


When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.


In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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