PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe Croatian writer Robert Perišić goes out of his way not to tell us where his novel No-Signal Area is set, but...[t]here’s nothing vague about his characters, however, and nothing indefinite about their stories ... Ellen Elias-Bursac, translating from the Croatian, renders distinctively the many voices of No-Signal Area, which moves from character to character often without identifying who’s speaking. Few conform to type ... The polyphonic storytelling enriches this amply populated novel, whose ambitions extend well beyond the Balkans ... In Perišić\'s poignant telling, the erasure of Yugoslavia and its socialist experiment continues to haunt its people, exes now adrift in a postwar vacancy. This void may be familiar to any reader who no longer feels connection to the divided, damaged nation he or she inhabits.
PositiveThe Financial Times... succeeds as an amusing satire of the contemporary literary enterprise. It’s also a compelling story about one young man’s struggle to know himself ... Wayne deftly disarms the reader’s presumed resistance to writers writing about becoming writers ... Wayne voices strikingly resonant truths about the development of young writers and the development of young men.
RaveFinancial TimesIn these tales every character is memorable, every situation seizes our attention and not a single word is out of place ... ironic self-awareness buoys the collection, keeping its flailing inhabitants within reach of the reader’s sympathy. Even though Eisenberg is a very funny writer, her stories offer few gags, their humor more likely to rise from the oddness of her characters. Potentially jokey lines are delivered in all seriousness ... We’re hurtling through time. The moments catch fire and burn out. It’s my fervent hope, nevertheless, that someday we’ll have the opportunity to look back on the many more stories that Deborah Eisenberg has yet to write.
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewPreposterously plotted and crammed with overly potted history, Darwin’s Ghosts doesn’t come close to succeeding ... Darwin’s Ghosts, with its materialist explanations and its prosaic writing, is hardly more than pedestrian science fiction.The novel depends on another bogus idea wrapped in pseudoscience, the notion that personal guilt can be passed down among generations, making descendants accountable for the actions of their distant ancestors (as opposed to all of us being responsible for addressing history’s present-day consequences). These are surprisingly illiberal themes for Dorfman, a public intellectual and admirable human rights advocate, but he doesn’t appear to have thought out their implications. Much of Darwin’s Ghosts, including its plot, its characters and its storytelling voice, would have benefited from more thought.
Olga Tokarczuk, Trans. by Jennifer Croft
PositiveFinancial TimesFlights is a dense, challenging novel and it makes for slow reading — perhaps not the best travelling companion — though its submerged themes and hidden insights are worth uncovering.
PanBookforumDavenport, a reporter at the Washington Post, celebrates the burgeoning private space industry, which now regularly launches payloads into orbit, but he devotes the bulk of his book to Musk and the Amazon founder, and their grander ambitions. Heeding the conventions mandated by this kind of narrative nonfiction, Davenport makes Bezos and Musk contrasting figures as he tries to create drama from their rivalry ... Like Davenport, many Americans have come to accept the notion of corporate superiority as an article of faith. Accordingly, NASA is too cautious; NASA is too bureaucratic; NASA is wasteful; NASA has too many regulations ... With its gee-whiz hyperbole and its portentious declarative sentences ('This time he would punch back'), The Space Barons itself feels like a twentieth-century artifact, from an age of more predictable journalism.The book ends with a characteristically vapid sentence fragment that describes the Bezos-Musk competition: 'A race past even their own imaginations, deep into the cosmos, to a point in the beyond where there was no finish line.' But this kind of sentimentality isn’t getting anyone to Mars.
Mihail Sebastian, Trans. by Philip Ó Ceallaigh
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewIn notes that are elegiac and lyrical, the young man contemplates millenniums of Jewish history. He wonders what it means to be a 20th-century Jew, especially a Jew who’s also a patriotic Romanian. How does one bridge ‘the divide between the Danube and the ghetto’? … One of the young man’s two non-Jewish mentors believes in an intrinsic national character dependent on the Romanian heartland. The other is urban and European. They are bitterly opposed, in terms that will be uncomfortably familiar to contemporary readers … What’s chilling about For Two Thousand Years, in this sensitive translation by Philip Ó Ceallaigh, is how its oppressive atmosphere foreshadows the rise of Romanian authoritarianism and the destruction of Romanian Jewry, even though it was published before the fascists came to power.
Laura Dassow Walls
RaveThe Financial TimesIn her luminous new biography of Thoreau, Laura Dassow Walls corrects many popular notions about the great American naturalist ... Reading Walls, I realise now just how deeply Thoreau carved his words into my character, or at least the character to which I aspired ... Through Walls’ biography, he once more challenges us to see, with his passion and intensity, the world in all its cruelty and its splendour, riddled with human lies and abundant in natural truths.
RaveThe New York TimesMichael Chabon's third novel celebrates the golden age of the adventure comic book, the ‘great, mad new American art form,' which spanned the years between the late 1930's and the early 50's … The cousins' adventures are leavened by buoyant good humor, wisecracks and shtick, but the story never loses its awareness of the tragedy that roils beneath the surface of our everyday lives and the lives of men in tights … The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay fulfills its quota of surprises, but most of its unexpectedness resides, comic-book-style, in its challenging situations, lushly written, in which you know beforehand that the heroes will prevail.
MixedThe Financial TimesKalfa?, a Czech-born American writer, vividly evokes the landscape, the people and the complicated moral history of his native land ... In the first half of the novel, Spaceman of Bohemia seems dimly imagined, especially in its space settings, where the scientific implausibility of the dust cloud, the Czech mission, the lone astronaut and the talking spider lend the story the insubstantiality of a lazy fantasy. The novel brightens somewhat in its second half ... Yet in these last pages the author strains for meaning while the astronaut seeks to understand his own significance to Czech history. The novel’s language is sometimes awkward and words are misused, as if the book had been launched without editorial Mission Control.
RaveThe Washington Post...[a] brilliant, blistering novel ... Grossman masterfully weaves several complex strands of narrative. First there are Dovaleh’s stories, particularly a single story that takes most of the book to unfold and aims at the heart of his self-loathing...Meanwhile, in the spaces between Dovaleh’s riffs, the retired judge recalls his late wife and his brief childhood friendship with the comedian. Avishai sees in advance that he tangentially figures in the principal story, the traumatic event that has haunted Dovaleh’s life ... After a lifetime of writing, Grossman is acknowledging that by entertaining his readers, he, too, has implicated them in his conceits, his failings and his cruelties. With Dovaleh, Grossman has created a character who’s captivating and horrific and a stand-up routine that’s disgusting and authentically human. I can hardly say how the book achieves its bewitching effects. It all happened so fast.
MixedThe Financial TimesThe Book that Changed America is a wildly unimaginative title and Fuller fails to make the case for the oversized premise of his book, which is that in America On the Origin of Species produced ‘epochal change and unanticipated aftershocks’ comparable to the civil war, ‘altering cherished ways of thinking, and remaking society.’ Fuller’s history rarely leaves the environs of Concord or nearby Harvard and we learn little of the response to Darwin elsewhere, particularly in the south and the west, either from those regions’ newspapers or from their pulpits … Although it is a smaller book than it claims to be, Fuller’s history of Concord is lively and enlightening.
MixedThe Financial TimesThe Feud is breezily told but Beam has spent so much time in the combatants’ company that he’s assumed both men’s imperiousness ... The Feud recalls a golden age when giants roamed the landscape. Beam’s account is most interesting as a study in vanity, a demonstration that one’s accomplishments don’t guarantee perspective or kindness.
RaveThe Financial Times...[a] moving, wry, thoroughly entertaining novel ... In his work, Chabon consistently shows unusual affection for his characters. They may be flawed individuals, but their virtues are bestowed generously and their difficulties are lightened by the author’s optimistic sympathy. Their lives do add up, as measured by ambition, courage and romantic and familial love.
PositiveThe Financial TimesThe novel’s plot meanders down some byways that are less interesting than others, and some of Zink’s characters aren’t really credible. The appeal of Nicotine mostly lies in its good-naturedly humorous depiction of the way some of us live now, particularly within a certain subset of young people who are politically engaged — a hipsterish, tattooed, gender-fluid, digitally connected, marginally employed, semi-privileged, disaffected cohor ... Much of the novel’s arch humour emerges from the dissonances generated by radical life in a relatively affluent and liberal society ... When she hits her targets, which is often, Nicotine can be quite funny.
Ben H. Winters
RaveThe Financial Times...[a] vivid, moving novel ... The carefully worked-out politics and mores of Winters’ fictional America mock our own, slyly satirising our blind-spots and compromises ... The story often strains credibility, but it’s never less than compelling. What distinguishes Underground Airlines as literature is the acuity and penetration of Winters’ moral vision — a perception that goes far beyond any specific historical injustice ... Winters allows Victor to exquisitely express our moral unease.
PanThe Washington PostThe Mandibles approaches the imminent collapse of American society from the right side of the political spectrum...This would be refreshing, as dystopias go, if Shriver’s novel wasn’t so burdened with dialogue in which the characters repeatedly explain to each other the reasons for America’s calamitous fall. They’re really lecturing the reader, of course, their main themes being initiative-sapping big government and the frauds perpetuated by the Federal Reserve ... Becoming bluntly partisan, the novel uses fantasy and name-checks to score points against Florence’s fellow liberals in her time and ours. The immigration amnesty of 2020 is followed by a constitutional amendment that allows for a foreign-born president: a pudgy, lisping Mexican, just one of the novel’s several racist characterizations ... At times, Shriver’s novel reads like the 'FoxLiberty-Ultra' version of Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, without the humor, but it more often recalls the libertarian fables of the classic science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein ... Shriver is, nevertheless, an engaging writer. Even with their speechifying and the tediousness of the story, her characters solicit your sympathy, much more than they usually do in genre science fiction. And also, as in good science fiction, you often have to look up from the page to remind yourself that you don’t live on the planet that’s being described.