THE CONFESSIONS OF NAT TURNER

Few first novels promised so much for a new writer as Styron's Faulknerian Lie Down in Darkness; with only one flawed major book in between, now sixteen years later it is difficult to relate this to the early book except for the emotional charge of some of the writing, most effective when descriptive. In the fulminating first person of Nat Turner, Just before he is to be killed, this reviews at black heat the "ruction" he incited—a mass murder and rape in the Virginia of 1831. "Nigger preacher," self-designated prophet, Nat is primarily a man who for the last half of his thirty-one years has nursed a "pure and obdurate" hatred for white men (and a less pure desire for their women). In the language of the law he's just an "animate chattel" although he had acquired the "lineaments not just of literacy out of knowledge" through one master who had educated him to be emancipated, then sold him because of economic pressures. On the one hand Nat thinks many bitter, contemporary thoughts about the Negro's imputed intellectual, spiritual and biological (but not sexual) inferiority; on the other hand, the novel is full of Yassuh-Massa survival stereotypes and situations from a much older literature (i.e. memories of his mother submitting to the white overseer; of blonde Miss Emmaline sullied and "ravished" by her cousin, etc.). This makes the book uneasy to reconcile—whether as a polemic or a novel; and then again there is no congruence between the Nat Turner who lived and died before the Civil War and the Nat Turner who seems to be a superimposition of the '60's, resurrected in some flagrantly modern scenes.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 1967

ISBN: 0679736638

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1967

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

THE WINTER GUEST

An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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