A brief, moving meditation on the nature of truth, memory, humanity, and violence: a powerful work of art.

EM

A constellation of connected characters provides a snapshot of Vietnam and the Vietnamese diaspora in North America from French colonization to life after the war.

Thúy, who was born in Vietnam and lives in Quebec, delivers a series of interconnected vignettes in her new novel. The book is in conversation with a drawing by Quebecois artist Louis Boudreault that appears toward the end of the text and shows a box with many threads attached. The characters—a French rubber plantation owner and the girl he takes from the fields to be his wife, their daughter, her nanny, and an outwardly expanding roster of other people—embody the overlapping, connected threads in the painting. The book starts with an explanation of the title: “The word em refers to the little brother or little sister in a family; or the younger of two friends; or the woman in a couple. I like to think the word em is the homonym of the verb aimer, “to love,” in French, in the imperative: aime.” In the narrative, small movements have large effects; love is both healing and misguided. Thúy moves the reader from a rubber plantation to the village of My Lai; from Charlie Company’s massacre to Operation Babylift and the experiences of orphans adopted by American families; from Saigon to nail salons and the cancer-causing chemicals found at both rubber plantations and salons. Characters appear and reappear as the threads weave together in economical but potent prose. Thúy troubles the line between fiction and nonfiction and their different ideas of truth: “In this book, truth is fragmented, incomplete, unfinished, in both time and space.” The book is human-focused and not a historical account; in the end, it feels like a work of visual and literary art at once.

A brief, moving meditation on the nature of truth, memory, humanity, and violence: a powerful work of art.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64421-115-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Seven Stories

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY

Newly released from a work farm in 1950s Kansas, where he served 18 months for involuntary manslaughter, 18-year-old Emmett Watson hits the road with his little brother, Billy, following the death of their father and the foreclosure of their Nebraska farm.

They leave to escape angry townspeople who believe Emmett got off easy, having caused the fatal fall of a taunting local boy by punching him in the nose. The whip-smart Billy, who exhibits OCD–like symptoms, convinces Emmett to drive them to San Francisco to reunite with their mother, who left town eight years ago. He insists she's there, based on postcards she sent before completely disappearing from their lives. But when Emmett's prized red Studebaker is "borrowed" by two rambunctious, New York–bound escapees from the juvie facility he just left, Emmett takes after them via freight train with Billy in tow. Billy befriends a Black veteran named Ulysses who's been riding the rails nonstop since returning home from World War II to find his wife and baby boy gone. A modern picaresque with a host of characters, competing points of view, wandering narratives, and teasing chapter endings, Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). You can quibble with one or two plot turns, but there's no resisting moments such as Billy's encounter, high up in the Empire State Building in the middle of the night, with professor Abacus Abernathe, whose Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers he's read 24 times. A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history.

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522235-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Award Finalist

CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

more