MixedThe Star TribuneTo get from beginning to end of Lawrence Jackson\'s Shelter, you\'ll probably need the following: a detailed map of Baltimore\'s neighborhoods, especially the ones bordering the sprawling campus of Johns Hopkins University, a dictionary to look up the occasional obscure or archaic word, and a great deal of patience ... For a book with a meandering narrative, including lots of excursions by foot, boat or bus and whip-lashing digressions, a story line actually exists, thin yet compelling.
RaveThe San Francisco ChroniclePart personal narrative, part chronicle of history, Northern Light reads mostly as an in-real-time account of Ali\'s return to reacquaint himself with Cross Lake and its long-suffering yet gracious people. The effect is kinetic — the reading can be breezy and then downright slow, weighed down by the formal language of treaties, many of them broken ... Embedded in this overall effect, however, is the higher call to slow down and pay close attention to the injustices wrought upon the people of Cross Lake, including, as a result, its troubled youth. And to truly feel what it\'s like to be there, to reclaim a land that possesses you in return ... so beautiful, so vivid, so real.
Lizzie Damilola Blackburn
RaveThe Star TribuneIf Lizzie Damilola Blackburn\'s debut novel, Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?, was to become a TV sitcom, it could run episode after episode, season after season, without losing steam on story material. Cheeky and entertaining, the novel, which spans just six months in the chaotic life of its British-Nigerian protagonist Yinka, packs in a whole lot of cross-cultural drama and social commentary with an easy-going, conversational style. Add romantic and professional mishaps, and complicated relationships among four Black women living in England, two of whom are Yinka\'s cousins, and you have the makings of comedic gold. Don\'t be fooled by the novel\'s slow, somewhat clunky start ... Blackburn offers insight into the way colorism and certain societal preferences for hair textures can affect women with darker skin and curlier hair ... Perhaps one mark of a successful book, however crammed, is if the reader still wishes to know more about what happens in the main character\'s life after a book ends—that is, as the story moves off the page. We may have to wait for that sitcom starring Blackburn\'s Yinka.
PositiveThe Star TribuneIn search of belonging, a writer probes the past and present among the Pimicikamak in the Canadian North ... Spurred by these memories—so irrepressible in light of Ali\'s perpetual search for belonging — and by a sense of urgency, Ali returns to the region of his early childhood as a kind of quasi-journalist and an unwitting agent of hope ... Part personal narrative, part chronicle of history, Northern Light reads mostly as an in-real-time account of Ali\'s return to reacquaint himself with Cross Lake and its long-suffering yet gracious people. The effect is kinetic — the reading can be breezy (\'the next morning is warm and sunny\') and then downright slow, weighed down by the formal language of treaties, many of them broken ... Embedded in this overall effect, however, is the higher call to slow down and pay close attention to the injustices wrought upon the people of Cross Lake, including, as a result, its troubled youth. And to truly feel what it\'s like to be there, to reclaim a land that possesses you in return.
PositiveThe Star TribuneShe employs this quaking metaphor with its terminology—faults, foreshocks, mainshocks and all—as an overarching, self-excavating structure, weaving personal stories together into a compelling, international tale of a biracial woman\'s quarter-life marred by mental illness and devastating losses ... the book, which mostly rejects the linear form for more organic storytelling, buckles under the weight of the dramatic and overwrought. Yes, there is plenty of urgency and intrigue, but there are lost opportunities to reject pat analogies for deeper reflections on how maddeningly complex we are as humans, especially those who defy easy categorizations of race and belonging. Nonetheless, Owusu has produced a memoir that is well-written and timely, having documented the minutiae of her early years as if her very own life depended on it.
RaveThe Star Tribune... superbly written ... [Gifty] is allowed all her preoccupations, small and big; she is a Black immigrant-type character who contains multitudes — and in today’s world, this remains a very good and relevant thing ... The narrative toggles back and forth in time and place, a style reminiscent of Gyasi’s bestselling debut novel, Homegoing, with its epic, familial span on the lives of two Ghanaian half-sisters. Some might find the effect dizzying, but Gyasi’s mastery at storytelling — cool, calculated, and confident like her rising neuroscientist narrator — holds our interest, drawing us into the eye of the psychological storm ... By the end of the novel, the reader — like Gifty — is left a little wiser and smarter but also no less attuned to the complexities of human life on this Earth.
PositiveThe Star Tribune... sweeping ... Heavy on narration and too light on the engaging dialogue that animated Mbue\'s first novel, the plot begins with a big bang and then unfolds, sometimes disjointedly, at a snail\'s pace, tragedies piling up ... As with her debut novel in which the American dream is cruelly upended, Mbue rejects the happier ending, replacing it with a biting dose of reality. Here, in her confident, rather unadorned style, she has struck a most somber note on the future. These days, it is a note that feels all too familiar.
Fiston Mwanza Mujila, trans. by Roland Glasser
RaveThe CommonThe bizarre list goes on for about a page, appearing suddenly like a solo in a jazz improvisation. This is characteristic of Mujila’s style, which shifts between conventional narrative and stream of consciousness without losing the narrative arc. This results in an originality not seen often in contemporary African writing, typified, for instance, by Chimamanda Adichie in Americanah or most recently, Chigozie Obioma in The Fishermen. In his novel, artfully translated from the French by Roland Glasser, Mujila successfully eschews the social realist approach for uncharted literary territory, interjecting humor...and his global knowledge of music...along the way ... Throughout the novel, the point of view shifts, zooming in on the private thoughts of the main characters and zooming out to encompass those of a more omniscient narrator. This puts Mujila’s musically attuned gift for moving seamlessly between the past and the present, between the inner and outer world of his characters on glorious display ... Mujilla writes fresh, inventive literature that is not only accessible in its use of humor and music, but deeply probes the complexities and challenges that persist in Congo today.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star Tribune[Nayeri\'s] family’s escape from Isfahan to Oklahoma, which involved waiting in Dubai and Italy, is wildly fascinating, and even by today’s standards it remains miraculous ... Using energetic prose, Nayeri is an excellent conduit for these heart-rending stories, eschewing judgment and employing care in threading the stories in with her own. It’s a pity that some threads run thin and frayed in parts, requiring the reader to grapple with remembering who’s who. The way the book is organized — loosely by chronology and mainly by theme — could be to blame ... Nevertheless, this is a memoir laced with stimulus and plenty of heart at a time when the latter has grown elusive.
PositiveThe Star Tribune\"... Serpell marks her writerly territory: playful yet still seriously engaged, her imagination largely unfettered. In a novel that spans the breadth of Zambia’s precolonial past to its digital future, Serpell’s unbound imagination is often a thing of beauty ... Serpell’s range of focus is too inexhaustible, although it is in the familial space with its dramas of loves, betrayals, desires and dreams that she excels. Her Zambian characters are especially brimming and compelling.\
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"Readers looking for light and unencumbered need not apply. There is a steady stream of angst and despair as the novel progresses; a kind of fatalism about the individual and society begins to permeate everything ... The orchestra in the novel’s title refers to the mournful cries of aggrieved fowls, the powerless. It is fitting ... It has been more than 50 years since Achebe broke ground in literature by interrogating the Western framework and adhering to the Igbo proverb with which Obioma opens his own book ... Yet it is still exciting to see this approach in fiction today, kind of unadulterated. And so Obioma’s novel remains interesting and important for precisely this reason. It may be reason enough.\
Scholastique Mukasonga, Trans. by Jordan Stump
MixedThe Star TribuneTranslated from the French by Jordan Stump, the book immediately establishes the beginnings of a formidable story about survival in an inhospitable new land ... But about halfway through the book, the focus shifts ... The shift, somewhat anthropological, leaves the reader in a bit of lurch, wondering how Stefania and her family lived out the rest of their lives ... Ever clear and laudable, however, is Mukasonga’s consistent portrayal of her mother as a guardian of the family and of Rwandan lore and customs in the deadly wake of expulsion and exile. No doubt, this small book—an unevenly woven \'shroud\'—bears an unimaginably heavy weight.
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"Set in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in Lagos, Oyinkan Braithwaite\'s My Sister, the Serial Killer is a showstopper in many ways — a no-nonsense one with a wicked sense of humor ... But from here on, as cleverly as the narrative unfolds, it relies too heavily on the all too familiar tropes of morality tales ... Along with Braithwaite\'s terse and efficient prose, the novel\'s uniqueness hinges on the nuances in the relationship between the two sisters ... this is a book to be enjoyed on its own terms.\
PositiveThe Associated Press\"Oyinkan Braithwaite\'s My Sister, the Serial Killer is a showstopper in many ways a no-nonsense one with a wicked sense of humor ... as cleverly as the narrative unfolds, it relies too heavily on the all too familiar tropes of morality tales ... this is a book to be enjoyed on its own terms. Take it or leave it thats exactly how Korede, the smart and straight-shooting narrator, prefers it.\
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star\"It is a true testament to Onuzo’s natural storytelling skills that she orchestrates, with humor, panache and multilingualism, the meeting of all these characters ... To her credit, despite the multiplying points of view and the ever-ensuing drama, Onuzo never really cedes control of the plot even as it twists in unbelievable ways, and as it shifts from Lagos to London, a move that diffuses the not-so-novel focus of the book — rampant greed and corruption know no bounds in today’s Nigeria — but abides by the transnational currents in recent fiction from writers with Nigerian roots.\
PositiveThe Star TribuneWhat’s to be marveled at here is how the writer Edemariam and her subject eventually become one, almost congealing into a single consciousness, so much so that when they are distinguishable the narrative suffers, its pacing and assembly decidedly off ... Edemariam manages to reel us into a particularly gripping personal history, one that reveals the unassailable spirit of one woman and highlights the gender inequalities that still exist — more than a century later — for many women across the world.
RaveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneGessen, a well-respected journalist and an activist herself, is all grit and groundwork, and zero slouch; she plumbs the depths of her subjects' lives, unearthing grievances big and small, laying bare their insecurities and desires and, for some, the way their rights as citizens are repeatedly stomped on by Vladimir Putin's ongoing crackdowns. Through diligent research into the fields of philosophy and sociology, she tracks decades-long trends in collective thought and action, illuminating nationalistic, anti-Western tendencies that created fertile ground for 'recurrent totalitarianism' ... When two or more of these three main threads, tied together primarily by the forward march of time, are interwoven successfully, the effect can be delightfully literary and intellectually rousing. But most stirringly wrought are the narratives of protests that emerge from the more personal stories. They are the bright flames that burn against the dying light of democracy and against the dark forces that, for many Russians, have rendered the very act of living in the present futile. They are also the voices raised for us all. Rightfully, they deserve our full attention.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneVerzemnieks, a former journalist, is a gracious writer, inviting the readers on her journey into the past. Yet she does so with few guideposts along the way — the book lacks a table of contents and photographs, and its chapters have no titles, just Roman numerals, stark elements of the past. This gives the memoir’s progression, as it moves between present and past, an inscrutable feel, for better or worse. However, armed with her wealth of knowledge in Latvian history and myths, and her masterful and lush observations, Verzemnieks remains an able guide, earning our undivided attention and admiration.
PositiveThe Minneapolis Star TribuneIf, as Judah writes in the introduction, his aim was to give an 'impression of what Ukraine feels like, now, in wartime,' he succeeds, largely due to the dozens of interviews he conducts ... Collectively, their voices resonate with the reader, instilling a lasting impression of a nation at once divided in loyalties and in the throes of a war — a real and somewhat bizarre one — a quarter-century after independence from the Soviet Union.
RaveThe Common\"In her generous, unrushed prose, Dennis-Benn delves with laudable skill into both the past and present lives of these women. Two of them—namely, Margot and Delores—are writ large, their personalities indomitable, and all the characters’ stories, rife with daily struggles and indignities, hardly seem to fit into the novel. Sometimes, the reader is left with the feeling that one or more of the characters might have been sidelined a tad too long ... Nevertheless the delicious twists and intriguing turns keep the novel going. They are executed well, with plenty of conflicts between and within the characters, making the novel a satisfying page-turner ... With this bold, new book, Dennis-Benn, a Jamaican who lives in New York and is a recipient of prestigious fellowships and prizes, stakes her rightful claim on the literary scene. She has written an interesting novel that concerns itself with issues we all, in some way or the other, must grapple with today. Although the novel’s execution buckles a little under the weight of ambition—the four main point of views and characters, and the multiplicity and complexity of revolving worlds—Dennis-Benn’s prose, which beams like the sun’s ray through the thickness of an ever-darkening plot, remains a true pleasure until the very end. \