Perhaps the most frighteningly plausible doomsday scenario yet to appear in fictional treatments of this seemingly insoluble...

THE SIRENS OF BAGHDAD

The logic of terrorism is taken to a virtually ultimate extent in this bloodcurdling successor to the pseudonymous author’s highly praised novels (The Attack, 2006, etc.).

It opens in Beirut, with its unnamed narrator’s emotional condemnation of this polyglot metropolis corroded by contact with Western values. His conversations with Dr. Jalal, a renegade Arab critic of jihad “rehabilitated” as an enemy of the West, circle around the subject of the narrator’s mission—which has brought him to Lebanon from Baghdad, whence he had moved from his native Bedouin village (Kafr Karam). The story thus told as an extended flashback embraces his experiences as the son of a disabled well-digger, a hopeful university student whose future plans were casualties of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and his own “re-education” as a victim of foreign invasion. Khadra skillfully solicits our identification with him by creating a persuasively detailed picture of nearly idyllic village life, then he shreds it. The narrator observes the horrific killing of a mentally retarded neighbor whose unstable behavior is misinterpreted by American G.I.s patrolling a highway checkpoint, learns of a missile strike that decimates a wedding party and seethes during a violent search that “shames” his father and his innocent family—and sets him on a vengeful course which is planned to end in a catastrophe “more awesome” than the events of 9/11. This potent novel’s major weakness is its frequent recourse to redundant discursive religious and political argument. Its compensatory strength is in what might be called the anecdotal evidence of injustices and atrocities that motivate its protagonist’s lethal momentum. And when Khadra discloses specific details of his “mission,” the effect strikes like a thunderbolt; your hands all but turn to stone as you turn the pages.

Perhaps the most frighteningly plausible doomsday scenario yet to appear in fictional treatments of this seemingly insoluble crisis. And if it doesn’t scare the hell out of you, you’re not paying enough attention.

Pub Date: May 8, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-385-52174-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2007

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

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.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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