MixedThe New YorkerDunn has no scoops, and she knows it. Furthermore, she is trying to be faithful to Pliny’s account, but, as she notes, he made a point, when he published his correspondence, of excising all the dates and arranging the letters, as he put it, \'however they came to hand\' ... The letters have a weirdly drifting quality, as if these people woke up, went to the law courts, sentenced some people to death, burned a few Christians, and then went home to dinner. With such a source, it is no surprise that Dunn’s book contains a number of challenges to our understanding ... No matter how distant you feel from the morals of imperial Rome, you can’t quite figure this out, and Dunn doesn’t help us much ... she does succeed in making Pliny, whom she clearly considers a sort of dry stick, a poignant character, the kind of person who has to do the dirty jobs of an empire and, having done them, gets no compliments.
RaveThe New York Review of BooksThe structure of the book is like that of shattered glass ... The characters are joined not by chronology, by begats, but by their fate—abandonment—which Scibona announces in the opening pages, in a scene of great cruelty ... Rarely do we understand why these people can’t stay with those who care for them and whom they seem to care for. But actually, the book asks, why should they? What do we owe one another, after all?... if we aren’t somebody’s mother or son or whatever—do we have any identity, any \'self\'? ... Having placed most of his characters in the same emotional landscape, how does Scibona manage to give them different lives? Sometimes he just insists, by the sheer force of the imagery he attaches to them ... Sometimes, however, Scibona pointedly does not insist on his characters’ distinctiveness. Indeed, he undermines it, most notably by the theme of abandonment and the unity that it makes among them. That, I think, is the book’s greatest quality: the spectral manner in which characters keep melting into and out of one another. Of course, this makes their story seem universal; we are all abandoned, the book is saying. ... The whole novel gradually acquires a kind of overhang, compact of heat and car exhaust, enigma and cruelty. It is the atmosphere, the air, of the book.
RaveThe New YorkerWhatever Sontag’s new embrace of reality, the person who wrote the essays is still in attendance, with the result that the realism of In America is overlaid with plenty of formalism. The narrative technique changes from chapter to chapter … In America is endlessly self-aware. It is Sontag speaking, as she spoke to us all those years in the essays. Hence the book’s tone, bright, silvery, bracing—tinkling at times. We do not lose ourselves in Maryna; we hover a little above her … What is wonderful about the book is exactly this counterpoint of novelist and essayist, of innocence and knowingness. From the knowingness comes another excellence of In America, its cat’s cradle of meanings.
PositiveThe New YorkerFew people who have read Gilead will forget Ames’s description of his and Lila’s decision, among the roses, to get married—the speed, the wildness of it—but I hope nobody ever asks me to choose between that and the version that Lila, in Lila, gives of the same event. In her version, she is not in a nice, symbolic garden … Lila is less concerned with race than just with poverty—indeed, starvation—among the migrant workers of the Midwest … Most of the time Robinson’s people aren’t actually starving; they’re just alone. That is the final meaning of her insistence on her characters’ own point of view: because they don’t see the same reality, they are consigned to solitude.
MixedThe New Yorker...this is not a tale that can be told by Anjum. Although she’s a perfect emblem of India’s predicament, she is too vulnerable, too marginal, to take Roy’s story where it needs to go. I think Roy may have been reluctant to see that. She stays with Anjum too long, and allows the hijra’s story to devolve into anecdotes. Some are wonderful, but they pile up, and they all carry much the same package of emotions: sweetness and recoil, irony and pathos. Finally, however, Roy takes a deep breath and changes her main character ... In the long second section of the novel, once Roy leaves Anjum and goes out into the great world you see what she learned in her twenty years of activism. And above all in Kashmir, where most of the latter part of the book takes place, we are shown horror after horror ... Roy’s scenes of violence are hallucinatory, like the chapters on the Bangladeshi independence movement in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, or the union-busting at the banana plantation in García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude ... At times, between the things flying this way and that—who is this new narrator who is talking to us, telling us that he needs to go to a rehab center?—you lose your bearings.
PositiveThe New Yorker[Mantel’s] interest is in the question of good and evil as it applies to people who wield great power. That means anguish, exultation, deals, spies, decapitations, and fabulous clothes … Mantel’s characters do not speak sixteenth-century English. She has created for them an idiom that combines a certain archaism with vigorous modern English. It works perfectly. And how urbane her people are! … Mantel doesn’t stint. She always goes for color, richness, music. She has read Shakespeare closely. One also hears the accents of the young James Joyce. As for the portentousness, the book is full of such effects, and they are entirely appropriate to the magnificent and dangerous world that is being described.
PositiveThe New YorkerIt shows the faults endemic to that genre: too much detail, together with a suspicious vagueness about family members who are still alive. But it reclaims Carter from the fairy kingdom and places her within what sounds like a real life ... A recurrent theme of Gordon’s book is Carter’s position as a woman in her profession. This is tiresome but unavoidable: in the nineteen-eighties, there was a much-trumpeted spurt of energy in English fiction, with the rise of a number of talented young men, notably Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, and Julian Barnes.
RaveThe New YorkerPeople will connect his book with Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception, and I’m sure Hens had that volume in mind, but if Nicotine has a literary progenitor I would say that it is In Search of Lost Time, in which Proust made the material of seven volumes bloom out of one French cookie dunked in a cup of tea. Nicotine is much shorter, only a hundred and fifty-seven pages, but Hens uses a similar alchemy to transform the things of his world—the family in which he grew up, in Cologne; his former home in Columbus, where he taught German literature at Ohio State; his apartment in Berlin, where he lives with his wife, and produces novels and translations—into whole relay stations of poetic force, humming and sparking and chugging ... From page to page, this beloved woman [Hens' mother] is glimpsed only partially. All around her there are silences, empty places, held breaths—an extraordinary act of literary finesse ... [a] dark, lovely, funny book.
MixedThe New Yorker[Schor] is faithful to Zamenhof, to the idea that Esperanto is not so much a language as the bearer of an idea. To absorb the idea, she says, one must subscribe to the journals and go to the conferences...But it’s not easy to figure out how she feels, or to what extent she is actually affiliating ... [Schor] starts unloading personal matters: how her interest in Esperanto coincided with a life crisis...Like the conference diaries, this material feels like something she decided to give us when she suspected that we’d be missing Zamenhof. But she pulls herself together and ends on a strong, high note, taking on a number of what she calls myths about Esperanto.
PositiveThe New YorkerBoth Ritwik’s and Miss Gilby’s stories are told from the point of view called third-person limited. They are not 'I,' but he and she; nevertheless, we usually see only what they see. As a result, the simultaneous unrolling of the two tales—Ritwik in the lavatory, Miss Gilby in the parlor—becomes a harvest of complication, irony, and texture. At the same time, the juxtaposition has a moral aspect, telling us that grief is widely apportioned among us. When, maybe halfway through the book, we realize that Miss Gilby’s story is Ritwik’s creation—it is a novel that he is writing—the act of empathy becomes breathtaking.
PositiveThe New YorkerOther genres that were once central to Western art have dropped off the shelf...The same could happen to tap. In that case, it will go down in the history books as a marvellous thing that grew and died under certain historical conditions, mostly in the twentieth century. And Seibert’s book will serve as a noble testimonial.
Elena Ferrante, Trans. by Ann Goldstein
RaveThe New YorkerThis is the most thoroughgoing feminist novel I have ever read.