MixedThe New Yorker“Mortals” provides many pages of marital discourse, its mutual satisfactions only slightly tinged by intimations of disquiet ... Scene after scene tests the reader’s own credulism with fantastic juxtapositions—torture and song, fury and innocence—under an African sky of burning sun and blazing stars ... It is annoying, one could say, that a novel demonstrating so acute, well-stocked, and witty a sensibility is such a trial to read ... Such an earnest, droll, inclusive anthropology must have needed an African sojourn for its maturation; still, I would be happy to see a Stateside sequel, no longer than, say, Candide or The Great Gatsby, to this (quoting Rush in another context) \'unhelpful olla podrida\' of a somewhat Miltonian epic.
J. M. Coetzee
RaveThe New YorkerThe hero, named John (as in John Michael Coetzee) and rendered in the third person and the present tense, is indeed a provincial boy, living, until a move late in the book, in a bleak, new but dusty housing estate outside the town of Worcester, north of Cape Town ... Excellent and deeply felt as the evocation is, it is something of what we expect from a memoir of a white southern African’s childhood, as are Coetzee’s accounts of his rather brutal schooling and his intimations of a precarious and unfair racial situation. Less usual is the dour flavor of the child’s complex self-awareness.
MixedThe New YorkerThis blithely gifted writer’s second novel...is longer and more various [than his first], and also slacker and more diffuse. His hip wit sits on the narrative less as delicious icing than as a nervous burden; self-consciousness threatens to block every simple feeling ... With the serial ingenuity of Ulysses, a medley of voices and short scenes in a virtuosic variety of styles seeks to encompass a mighty but elusive subject ... the apparently mighty theme of John Henry, though attacked from every angle, refuses to yield a unifying resonance that would incorporate J. Sutter and his very contemporary predicament ... In John Henry Days, the sepia mood has produced an ambitious, finely chiseled work frustratingly vague in its resolution. At the end, the novel falls into the jackhammer prose of old newsreel voice-overs, and delivers what is either the best-disguised happy ending or the most muffled tragic note of the publishing season.
RaveThe New Yorker... a strikingly original and polished début ... seizes upon an unsung wonder in our midst, the elevator, and sings its history, its technology, its romance, adding to the novelist’s solid research a scintillating pinch of sci-fi fantasy ... Whitehead unfolds his raddled undercity with the terse poetry and numinous dignity of the early Malamud. The prose is a gas, bubbly, clean, often funny in its bursts of mock-mandarin social exposition ... Whitehead can try too hard, but generally his writing does what writing should do; it refreshes our sense of the world.
RaveThe New Yorker[Doctorow\'s] splendid new novel ... combines the author’s saturnine strengths with an elegiac compassion and prose of a glittering, swift-moving economy ... The March...offers an illumination, fitful and flickering, of a historic upheaval that only fiction could provide. Doctorow here appears not so much a reconstructor of history as a visionary who seeks in time past occasions for poetry ... Doctorow, at ease in the nineteenth century, demonstrates an impressive familiarity with military logistics and tactics prior to fully mechanized warfare ... The March carries us through a multitude of moments of wonder and pity, terror and comedy, to the triumph of Southern surrender and the sudden tragedy of Lincoln’s assassination. Sherman’s march is large enough, American myth enough, to pull even a laggard recruit along, and to hold Doctorow’s busy imagination fast to the reality of history even as he refreshes our memory of it.
MixedThe New YorkerA Mercy takes us deeper into the bygone than any of Morrison’s previous novels ... In A Mercy, Morrison’s epic sense of place and time overshadows her depiction of people; she does better at finding poetry in this raw, scrappy colonial world than in populating another installment of her noble and necessary fictional project of exposing the infamies of slavery and the hardships of being African-American ... as Morrison moves deeper into a more visionary realism, a betranced pessimism saps her plots of the urgency that hope imparts to human adventures. A Mercy begins where it ends, with a white man casually answering a slave mother’s plea, but he dies, and she fades into slavery’s myriads, and the child goes mad with love. Varied and authoritative and frequently beautiful though the language is, it circles around a vision, both turgid and static, of a new world turning old, and poisoned from the start.
Orhan Pamuk, Trans. by Maureen Freely
MixedThe New YorkerThe comedy of public events, where protest and proclamation rapidly age into melodramatic cliché, overlays certain tragic realities of contemporary Turkey … Ka has a drifting, ghostly presence that becomes exasperatingly mired in the role of negotiator, schemer, man of action; it wasn’t clear, at least to this reader, what his decisive action, for which he suffers in the end, was. Nor is his love for Ipek, beautiful and wise as she is conjured to be, very involving … If at times Snow seems attenuated and opaque, we should not forget that in Turkey, insofar as it partakes of the Islamic world’s present murderous war of censorious fanaticism versus free speech and truth-seeking, to write with honest complexity about such matters as head scarves and religious belief takes courage.
Orhan Pamuk, trans. by Erda? Göknar
PositiveThe New YorkerThis curious, sumptuous, protracted thriller consists of fifty-nine chapters told from a total of twelve viewpoints, including that of the murderer … Pamuk's consciousness of Turkey's fate of imitation and inauthenticity expresses itself in his characters' frequent feelings of detachment from their real selves … The novel bears traces of an interrupted composition, wherein the author had to get a fresh grip upon the many glittering threads of theory and incident. Orhan Pamuk's labor, in this otherworld of miniatures, was long, and the reader's labor at times feels long, between spells of being entranced and educated … Erdag Göknar deserves praise for the cool, smooth English in which he has rendered Pamuk's finespun sentences, passionate art appreciations, slyly pedantic debates, eerie urban scenes (it keeps snowing, which one doesn't think of as Istanbul weather), and exhaustive inventories.
Jonathan Safran Foer
MixedThe New YorkerThis reader’s heart slightly sank when he realized that he was going to spend more than three hundred pages in the company of an unhappy, partially wised-up nine-year-old … This reader’s mind was boggled, too, by a nine-year-old boy’s being allowed to roam, every weekend, all over the five boroughs, inquiring, in alphabetical order, at the two hundred and sixteen different addresses listed in the phone book under the name ‘Black’ … The book’s graphic embellishments reach a climax in the last pages, when the flip-the-pages device present in some children’s books answers Oskar’s yearning that everything be run backward—a fall is turned into an ascent. It is one of the most curious happy endings ever contrived, and unexpectedly moving.
MixedThe New YorkerAtwood...is a dab hand at science fiction. Here, Zycron is out of this world’s time but echoes, as the often interrupted narrator explains, ancient earthly history … History, embodying ‘the ill will of the universe,’ is the ultimate blind assassin, a vast repository of cruelties and annihilations … Atwood’s maze should be allowed its turns and surprises, which unfold cunningly, and at (too much?) leisure. The attentive reader may guess some secrets before they are revealed; others are never revealed completely, as is the way with reality. A nagging sense of gimmickry, amid all these spinning wheels of plot, accompanies our awed and often delighted awareness of Atwood’s mastery of period detail.
PositiveThe New YorkerIan McEwan has produced a beautiful and majestic fictional panorama … The writing is conspicuously good; and this goodness turns out to be, eventually, a subject of criticism in a droll show of artistic self-reference, although in the meantime it works an authentic spell … The novel's bloody illustrations of the horrors of war compel assent and pity, and yet, such is the novel reader's romantic nature, it is the lovers that keep us turning the page; theirs is the consummation we devoutly wish. Our wish is granted...in its tenderness and doubleness and final effect of height, in its postmodern concern with its own writing, and in its central topic of two upper-class sisters in the period between the world wars.
MixedThe New YorkerA real page-turner, as well as an insistently metaphysical mind-bender … We often cannot imagine, while reading Kafka on the Shore, what will come next, and our suspicion...is that the author did not always know, either … The double plot unfolds in cunningly but tenuously linked chapters. There is violence, comedy, sex—deep, transcendental, anatomically correct sex, oral and otherwise—and a bewildering overflow of possible meanings … The novel’s two heroes interact only in the realm of kami. Of their entwined narratives, the story of Kafka Tamura is more problematic, more curiously overloaded, than that of the holy fool Nakata, with its familiar elements of science fiction, quest, and ebullient heroics.