PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewReaders may quibble with some of Jiles’s plotting — a pair of fortuitous meetings, a deflating final twist — but there can be no quibbling with the dramatic tension in her rendering of the chaotic, wretchedly despoiled landscape Chenneville encounters.
Stefan Hertmans, trans. David McKay
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewHertmans deftly blends reporting and speculation as he reimagines the lives these rooms once sheltered, laying out the terrible consequences of an ambitious man’s blinkered devotion to the bureaucracy of the Reich ... Hertmans’s narrative vividly documents domestic tensions that echo the larger hostilities engulfing Belgium in the 1930s and ’40s. But what might have been an all-too-familiar portrait of a fanatical, philandering SS functionary is overshadowed by a nuanced depiction of Verhulst’s deeply religious wife, Mientje, who was raised to be a subservient caregiver and is completely dependent on his salary for the survival of their three young children.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewEloquent ... The novel’s plot pivots around the search for a 6-year-old boy who has gone missing in a dust storm. Young Denny lives just outside the newly settled town of Fairly and, as his absence stretches from one day to the next and then the next, the tensions beneath the surface of this fledgling society become more apparent.
RaveNew York Times Book ReviewFast-paced yet wonderfully detailed ... Cleverly, the adventures and privations of Ned Whalley and his son-in-law, Will Goffe, are set in counterpoint to the trials of Will’s wife, Frances, as she hides in London with five young children, relying on the charity of her religious community as she faces plague, poverty and the great fire that will later destroy much of the city.
PositiveThe New York TimesThe narrator of Francesca Stanfill’s The Falcon\'s Eyes longs for an independent life, but the realities of 12th-century Europe dictate otherwise...Isabelle de Lapalisse, the younger daughter of a noble but downwardly mobile Provençal family, is married off to a wealthy stranger whose devotion to his falcons is matched only by his lust for an heir...Initially attracted to Gerard de Meurtaigne — and to the comforts he lavishes on her — Isabelle eventually realizes that his love is contingent on her abject surrender...\'My life would be controlled by my husband until I was old, and weary, and all the curiosity to see the world had been extinguished from me\'...The plot sends Isabelle shuttling between England and France, with some dramatic revelations toward the close...But for long stretches it has a more languid pace, rooted in the details of the characters’ lives — not just meals and clothes but the social routines and rigid etiquette that define their movements, whether they’re maids or royals...Clever intrigues can sometimes subvert the power men hold over them, but is it possible to contrive an escape? At first, the ornamental bronze falcon Isabelle’s husband gives her is an \'emblem of failure\'...Over time she comes to see it as a symbol of the freedom his living hawks find in the skies — yet she must never forget that the falcon’s eyes are always \'alert to kill.\'
PositiveThe New York TimesVictoria Shorr uses a pair of novellas in Mid-Air to contrast two quintessentially American families, one clinging to an impeccably well-connected past and the other roughly scrambling to build a fortune for the future...Edward Perkins’s buttoned-up style is a far cry from that of the 13-year-old immigrant who arrives at Ellis Island in Shorr’s second novella, \'Cleveland Auto Wrecking\'...What links the Perkinses and the Whites, apart from the fact that their trajectories are meeting \'midair\'?...For starters, there’s Shorr’s eye for telling detail as she unreels the families’ varied experiences...And then there’s her insightful acknowledgment that those experiences are transformed as they sink into the past, that their subtle shadings will inevitably be lost.
Uzma Aslam Khan
PositiveThe New York TimesUzma Aslam Khan’s The Miraculous True History of Nomi Ali is indeed a miraculous performance, although the young girl called Nomi Ali is only one of the many characters whose histories are entangled here...Set in the Andaman Islands, a British penal colony in the Bay of Bengal, just before and during World War II, Khan’s suspenseful, thought-provoking narrative is a challenge to simple assumptions about enemies and friends, loyalty and betrayal.
Tsering Yangzom Lama
PositiveThe New York Time Book ReviewLama’s novel spans 50 years and three generations, vividly documenting one family’s attempts to stay faithful to time-honored traditions ... Lama sets up a particularly searing contrast between the daily experiences of Lhamo, who makes a tenuous living selling trinkets to tourists near Kathmandu, and those of the wealthy art connoisseurs encountered by Lhamo’s daughter, Dolma, an aspiring Tibetan scholar who pursues her studies in Canada and lives with her aunt Tenkyi, a former teacher who now cleans hotel rooms. Moving back and forth in time, hinging crucial plot twists to the disappearance (or is it theft?) of a sacred relic, Lama offers an unsentimental account of these Tibetan expatriates’ \'ugly game\' of survival.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... accomplished ... documents Henry’s diligent attempts to put down roots in New Mexico, but its strength lies in its portrayal of the many places — Changsha, Chongqing, Shanghai and points in between — where his mother, Meilin, sought refuge with her only child, known then as Renshu.
David Wright Falade
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... stirring ... Faladé’s fast-paced narrative is filled with dramatic confrontations. But its military skirmishes are made even more tense and powerful by the personal clashes that set some soldiers against one another and illuminate the dangerous uncertainties that shadow both the hurriedly assembled Black forces of the Union Army and the local communities being wrested from the Confederacy.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewYou don’t need to be familiar with its predecessor to enjoy this account of the efforts of the Tudor court’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham, to protect his monarch from a cunning band of assassins. But those who’ve already read The Eyes of the Queen will be primed for the reappearance of Walsingham’s very reluctant (and very impecunious) agent ... Along the way, Clements will use what he calls \'the bit parts\' and \'turning points\' of 16th-century English history to anchor his playful speculations.
Meg Waite Clayton
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewClayton’s title is somewhat misleading. As a \'postmistress,\' Nanée does deliver messages to those in hiding from the Nazis, but she also strikes out on her own, plotting daring rescue attempts that will take her to a notorious internment camp, then deep into occupied territory. And although Nanée has a posh Parisian apartment, much of the novel’s action takes place in and around Marseille, where her rented villa provides shelter to a cast of characters that includes the Surrealist icon André Breton and a wholly fictional photographer, Edouard Moss ... suspenseful.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... powerful ... Chidgey sets the perspectives of Weber and the Hahns in counterpoint, giving a chilling intimacy to the daily routines inside the Hahn household and at the inmates’ nearby barracks.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe real James Barry’s ruse was discovered only during a deathbed post-mortem, and debates about the choices that ruse involved are still being waged. How should Barry be considered? Trans? Male? Female? Levy opts for the last, adopting that perspective so her narrator can explore — sometimes painfully, sometimes wittily, always persuasively — the differences between a woman’s experience of Georgian and Victorian society and the masculine freedom to be found when those social constrictions are eased.
Ahmet Altan, trans. by Brendan Freely and Yelda Türedi
PositiveThe New York TimesReading the newly released second volume of Altan’s Ottoman Quartet suggests that the death of his country’s old empire may shed light on the new ones that followed ... Altan’s lush swirl of intrigue and speculation is filtered through the consciousness of a reclusive modern-day citizen of Istanbul, holed up in his grandfather’s decaying mansion, channeling the stories of his ancestors and those who surrounded them. The action unfolds in the barracks of army officers and their troops, in the shadows of a monastery of Sufi dervishes, in the mansions of the often deeply corrupt upper classes and in the chambers of the sultan’s palace, where he indulges his fear of the dark and his hunger for gossip and rumor.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewWith its intersecting plots that rest on the slow but not so steady construction of an enormous church in medieval Alsace, Ben Hopkins’s novel has the look of an old-fashioned doorstop of a saga. But when you immerse yourself in the shifting perspectives of Cathedral, what you also discover is a clever (even postmodern?) commentary on the ironies of history. As he traces the fates of a lively scrum of characters, Hopkins shows how the seemingly firm hierarchies of one era can be grounded in the social strife — and sometimes sheer luck — of those that came before. In this nimble mesh of stories, a trading empire can have its roots in something as simple as the theft of a wig ... Hopkins is a filmmaker as well as a novelist, so it’s no surprise that he should stock his pages with tension-filled scenes.
Viola Ardone, Tr. Clarissa Botsford
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIn Clarissa Botsford’s translation from the Italian, the bleak but resilient life of the south is set in contrast to the simple yet almost foreign pleasures Amerigo discovers with his host family. It’s not just the delicious meals, the warm clothing, the regular schooling. It’s also the unguarded affection ... a wrenching postscript.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... [a] deft mix of history, myth and invention ... a vividly evoked array of settings. The inhabitants of Puji village offer an energetic chorus of background voices, as do servants and hangers-on at the family home. And an interlude on a tiny island, where the kidnapped Xiumi awaits her fate, accompanied by a Buddhist nun, is properly foreboding.
Sigrid Undset, trans. By Tiina Nunnally
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewTiina Nunnally’s new translation captures the dark imperatives of a land where clan loyalties and ancient codes of honor have become ensnarled in the struggle between rising powers: the church and the royal court.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe stories at the heart of Valerie Martin’s latest novel...are freely, but not always innocently, shared. And what Martin’s narrator does with them raises prickly questions of ownership, artistic license and ethical responsibility ... As the evidence accumulates, she composes a scattering of stories that are interwoven with the novel’s contemporary narrative, seeking the roots of the Salviatis’ personal drama as far back as the beginning of the last century. \'Do you like it?\' Beatrice asks after sharing one provocative reminiscence. \'I give it to you.\' But when that seemingly casual gift is transformed into a published book, she might change her mind.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewOne of the many pleasures of Marina Endicott’s exhilarating new novel...is its celebration of life on the open sea ...ay’s gradual awareness of what she can and can’t escape works in deft counterpoint with the wider-world encounters of the dark-skinned child she calls Aren, considered by Thea and Francis to be their adopted son. But how will this arrangement play back in Canada, if Aren even makes it that far? The second half of the novel picks up the action a decade later, when the Great War has destroyed the last remnants of the great age of sail, as it has so many other things. There are new troubles on the horizon, but the sea, with its invigorating attraction, remains.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...a rambunctious pastiche ... Weaving in and out of these portraits are the reminiscences of one of Ziggy’s favorite students. This young woman’s story is engaging, but she’s smart enough to let Ziggy’s voice prevail ... always lively and often wise.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewHow can a novel that begins with a drowning and probes the depths of loss, grief and longing be such a joy to read? Part of the answer can be found in Hegi’s rhapsodic conjuring of the natural wonders of Nordstrand, in her depiction of the warmth of its people and the emotions that move them, sometimes against their best interests. There’s also her ease in deploying a large and varied cast of characters.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... ambitious ... Serizawa’s most gripping stories capture the horrors of the Japanese experience of the war and its aftermath ... Neither the Americans nor the Japanese emerge as anything but tragically, sometimes barbarically, human. Occasionally the visceral power of these stories is undermined by forced exposition ... But for the most part Serizawa’s fiction is convincingly rooted in the intimate, yet still provocatively collective, quandaries of her characters.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... what a design! George expertly crosscuts between various plots, coaxing [historical characters] closer and closer as evening draws on. The tinder has been set and the fire is lit as the action converges on a raucous cabaret in Montmartre. \'It’s not just objects that warp and disappear in the flames’ embrace,\' it’s the characters’ notions of what they’re capable of doing, of what sort of people they’ve become in this combustible present.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewIt seems particularly apt that Anne Coke Tennant, Baroness Glenconner, was born into an ancient British family whose crest is an ostrich swallowing an iron horseshoe, symbolizing, as she puts it, \'our ability to digest anything.\' Readers of her sometimes amusing, sometimes appalling, sometimes affecting, sometimes clueless memoir will learn that she was a perfect ostrich ... The pleasures of Glenconner’s tales must be winkled out of her sturdy if occasionally clichéd prose: revelations of the strange juxtapositions of an unexpectedly upstairs-downstairs aristocratic life ... Glenconner’s travels on Margaret’s overseas tours yield some of the book’s best anecdotes ... Despite its madcap romps, Lady in Waiting can make for sobering reading, and the downside of this privileged life, with its potential for tragedy, looms over three of Glenconner’s five children ... Glenconner’s descriptions of these difficult times are evidence of the grit that underlies her genteel affect.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe suspense may carry you through the first half of the novel, but what works better is Russo’s depiction of his central characters, with their father issues and insecurities about class and money, their ingrained cluelessness about women and their need to present a certain image to the world, even if they’re pretty sure the world couldn’t care less ... requires a pretty hefty suspension of disbelief ... is, at heart, less a mystery than an evocation of what happens when you subscribe to \'the peculiarly male conviction that silence conveyed one’s feelings better than anything else ... can be affecting precisely because these old friends have so much difficulty articulating their emotions.
RaveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewThe Buddha in the Attic unfurls as a sequence of linked narratives, some no longer than a paragraph. While it appears to hold the characters at a formal distance, that reticence infuses their stories with powerful emotion … The Buddha in the Attic is, in a sense, a prelude to Otsuka’s previous book, revealing the often rough acclimatization of a generation of farm laborers and maids, laundry workers and shop clerks whose husbands would take them for granted and whose children would be ashamed of their stilted English and foreign habits. Otsuka’s chorus of narrators allows us to see the variety as well as the similarity of these women’s attempts to negotiate the maze of immigrant life … Otsuka’s incantatory style pulls her prose close to poetry.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...a ramblingly entertaining first novel ... The mechanics of the central plot are best not inspected too closely, although they do yield some nicely rebellious behavior, a stint of high-stakes political jostling and a satisfying if only intermittently convincing nerd romance. More appealing for many readers — who, like Cooper, may glaze over when things get 'too science-y' — are the back stories and posturings of the ensemble cast, whose day-to-day dramas provide a vivid notion of what it’s like to live in a frigid landscape that’s dark for six months of the year.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewManon is portrayed with an irresistible blend of sympathy and snark. By the time she hits bottom, professionally and privately, we’re entirely caught up in her story ... In some ways, Miriam is the true heroine of Missing, Presumed, and her observations are among the most affecting in a novel that ends up being as much about loneliness and longing as it is about the solving of a crime.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...Bryson is often just playing at being a curmudgeon. Essentially genial, he remains devoted to a host of 'pleasing Britannic things,' from the small to the significant: 'On tricky and emotive issues like gun control, abortion, capital punishment, the teaching of evolution in schools, the use of stem cells for research, and how much flag waving you have to do in order to be considered acceptably patriotic, Britain is calm and measured and quite grown up.'