Herzog fans will hope for a film to come. Meanwhile, this evocation of loyalty to a lost cause serves beautifully.

THE TWILIGHT WORLD

Stunning tale of obsession unto madness by a master of that narrow but fruitful genre.

Recall director Herzog’s film Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972), and you’ll have a key to this story, whose details he calls “factually correct”—mostly. In Tokyo to stage a production of Chushingura in 1997, Herzog declines an opportunity to speak with the emperor and instead asks to see Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese commando who hid on a Philippine island from 1944 until 1974. Herzog tells Onoda’s tale from the beginning, when the psychologically remote sentinel had a few companions. One was captured early on and two were killed, all well after the war had ended. Onoda, though, was convinced that the war was ongoing since year after year vast armadas of American ships and airplanes came by—though bound for Korea and then, a decade later, Vietnam. “Our tasks are to remain invisible, to deceive the enemy, to be ready to do seemingly dishonorable things while keeping safe in our hearts the warrior’s honor,” Onoda exhorts, sure that the leaflets and broadcasts directing him and his troops to surrender are all “just a trick to lure them out of their jungle fastness.” Three decades after the war ended, a young Japanese student named Suzuki—whose goal after having ferreted out Onoda is to find a yeti and then a giant panda—strikes a deal: If he returns with the commander who had ordered Onoda to remain on Lubang, then Onoda will surrender. What happens next has the bittersweet dimension that is another Herzog trademark, marked by graceful prose: Onoda becomes a rancher in Brazil, and among the cows and away from people, “he knows he is where he is.”

Herzog fans will hope for a film to come. Meanwhile, this evocation of loyalty to a lost cause serves beautifully.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-49026-6

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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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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