The least substantive of Just’s recent novels.



Old men’s memories of making history overshadow their children’s less dramatic lives.

A U.S. senator for 54 years, Kim Malone was, like his idol FDR, a liberal Democrat, a mover and shaker. Now Kim lies dying in a Virginia hospital, visited by his only child, Alec. His son disappointed Kim twice: by not following him into politics, and then, after becoming a well-regarded news photographer, by refusing an assignment in Vietnam. Despite these past disagreements, and their temperamental differences, father and son share a deep affection. Adopting different viewpoints, veteran political novelist Just (Forgetfulness, 2006, etc.) narrates with his trademark urbanity, moving from Kim’s memories to those of Alec and his wife Lucia. Czech by origin, Swiss by upbringing, she too had an activist parent; her mother, a socialist, held salons in Zurich while the outdoorsy Lucia skied competitively until a severe accident changed her life. She was an au pair in the Washington home of the Swiss ambassador when she met Alec in the early 1960s. They married, had a daughter and bought a house in Georgetown. Then, over the fence, Lucia hears cocktail-party chatter from the Central European exiles of the title. It acts as a siren song for Lucia. She falls in love with Nikolas, a Hungarian professor/novelist, and they elope to Switzerland. Though devastated, Alec does not fight for her. He’s an enigma, everyone agrees, and that’s OK—so was Iago. But Othello’s treacherous ensign was an enigma in action, while Alec is mired in passivity, a dull character in an unexamined marriage. A second old man restores some energy to this ragged story line. In a blatant contrivance, Lucia’s long-disappeared father Andre shows up in a Washington boardinghouse. His experience as a partisan in Yugoslavia, fighting the fascists in World War II, bookends Kim’s fights in the Senate; both men were committed to the struggle in a way Alec never managed to be.

The least substantive of Just’s recent novels.

Pub Date: July 7, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-547-19558-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2009

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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