The hit-and-run structure has the unfortunate, and surely unintended, effect of fragmenting the overall emotional impact....

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LOVE MARRIAGE

The history of an extended family whose relationships and destinies are shaped by fallout from Sri Lanka’s ongoing civil war is sorrowfully traced in Ganeshananthan’s affecting first novel.

The narrator, Yalini, is an American-born young woman whose personal freedom is indebted to the courage of her parents, Murali and Vani, both of whom had escaped marriages to others “Arranged” for them (as decreed by long-standing custom) and emigrated to the West. As Yalini is impelled to focus her attention on the world of her fathers and mothers (in the wake, so to speak, of the catastrophic 2004 tsunami), she begins to question not only her Hindu culture’s ceremonial imperatives, but the rights and wrongs of the war that began in earnest in the year of her birth (1983), and the divisive allegiances that drew her fiery uncle Kumaran into the orbit of the feared “Tamil Tigers,” revolutionary opponents of Sri Lanka’s oppressive Sinhalese majority. As Kumaran lies dying of cancer, and his daughter Jenani plans marriage to a highly placed Tamil operative, Yalini uncovers the histories of her predecessors and contemporaries, in Asia and North America. Summary suggests a crowded narrative, but in fact it’s a glancing, episodic one, framed in rapid, brief vignettes, only some of which strike with much force. The stories of the doomed Kumaran, unable to resist the righteous momentum of terrorism; Murali’s frail sister Uma, who “was just Too Special to Get Married”; and of a wedding “disrupted” by terrorist vengeance, are notably vivid and memorable. Ganeshananthan’s portrayal of Yalini as her embattled family’s reluctant historian is complex and interesting, as is Yalini’s recognition of her “outsider” status (“When I got to the U.K. I had a shock...I realized that I had become a colored person.”).

The hit-and-run structure has the unfortunate, and surely unintended, effect of fragmenting the overall emotional impact. Still, the individual characters’ stories ring true and should move readers to make this novel a book-club favorite.

Pub Date: April 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6669-8

Page Count: 306

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2008

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A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

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THE NIGHT WATCHMAN

In this unhurried, kaleidoscopic story, the efforts of Native Americans to save their lands from being taken away by the U.S. government in the early 1950s come intimately, vividly to life.

Erdrich’s grandfather Patrick Gourneau was part of the first generation born on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. As the chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in the mid-1950s, he had to use all the political savvy he could muster to dissuade Utah Sen. Arthur V. Watkins (whom Erdrich calls a “pompous racist” in her afterword) from reneging on long-held treaties between Native Americans and the federal government. Erdrich's grandfather is the inspiration for her novel’s protagonist, Thomas Wazhushk, the night watchman of the title. He gets his last name from the muskrat, "the lowly, hardworking, water-loving rodent," and Thomas is a hard worker himself: In between his rounds at a local factory, at first uncertain he can really help his tribe, he organizes its members and writes letters to politicians, "these official men with their satisfied soft faces," opposing Watkins' efforts at "terminating" their reservation. Erdrich reveals Thomas' character at night when he's alone; still reliable and self-sacrificing, he becomes more human, like the night he locks himself out of the factory, almost freezes to death, and encounters a vision of beings, "filmy and brightly indistinct," descending from the stars, including Jesus Christ, who "looked just like the others." Patrice Paranteau is Thomas' niece, and she’s saddled with a raging alcoholic father and financial responsibility for her mother and brother. Her sister, Vera, deserts the reservation for Minneapolis; in the novel’s most suspenseful episode, Patrice boldly leaves home for the first time to find her sister, although all signs point to a bad outcome for Vera. Patrice grows up quickly as she navigates the city’s underbelly. Although the stakes for the residents of Turtle Mountain will be apocalyptic if their tribe is terminated, the novel is more an affectionate sketchbook of the personalities living at Turtle Mountain than a tightly plotted arc that moves from initial desperation to political triumph. Thomas’ boyhood friend Roderick returns as a ghost who troubles Thomas in his night rounds, for example; Patrice sleeps close to a bear and is vastly changed; two young men battle for Patrice’s heart.

A knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-267118-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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