More history lesson than stylish fiction.

THE HERETIC

A NOVEL OF THE INQUISITION

Spanish novelist Delibes (The Wars of Our Ancestors, 1992, etc.) fashions a poignant, although pale and rather bloated encomium to the early Reformation history of his hometown, Valladolid.

In the mid-16th century, this northwestern Castilian city was home to many Protestant dissenters chafing against the strictures of the Inquisition. Delibes’s story concerns Cipriano Salcedo, son of thin-blooded, well-to-do businessman Bernardo Salcedo, and his beautiful wife Catalina, who died after giving birth to her only child. The boy’s early years are hardly noteworthy; indeed, the author devotes more attention to widowed Bernardo’s heated efforts to find a suitable bedfellow, ultimately successful when 15-year-old virgin Petra Gregorio turns out to be a sexual dynamo. Delibes does take a moment to introduce Cipriano’s peasant nurse Minervina, who will play a part in his later history when he is judged a heretic and condemned to burn at the stake. First, however, Cipriano grows up and marries, then experiences the same fertility problem as his father. His wife dies, and Cipriano gradually entangles himself in the secretive local Protestant society led by Doctor Cazalla. Its shadowy adherents believe they are following the clandestine tradition of the apostles and the Christians in the catacombs. At their dangerous meetings, Cipriano learns to accept the Protestant party line: Purgatory doesn’t exist, nuns and priests cannot be held to celibacy, confession should not be spoken aloud. He embarks on perilous journeys as proselytizer, supervising the printing of anti-papal documents and expounding his beliefs at various far-flung convents. In the end, the Holy Office prevails; the heretical society is betrayed by one of its own.

More history lesson than stylish fiction.

Pub Date: April 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-58567-570-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2006

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

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MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

A young New York woman figures there’s nothing wrong with existence that a fistful of prescriptions and months of napping wouldn’t fix.

Moshfegh’s prickly fourth book (Homesick for Another World, 2017, etc.) is narrated by an unnamed woman who’s decided to spend a year “hibernating.” She has a few conventional grief issues. (Her parents are both dead, and they’re much on her mind.) And if she’s not mentally ill, she’s certainly severely maladjusted socially. (She quits her job at an art gallery in obnoxious, scatological fashion.) But Moshfegh isn’t interested in grief or mental illness per se. Instead, she means to explore whether there are paths to living that don’t involve traditional (and wearying) habits of consumption, production, and relationships. To highlight that point, most of the people in the narrator's life are offbeat or provisional figures: Reva, her well-meaning but shallow former classmate; Trevor, a boyfriend who only pursues her when he’s on the rebound; and Dr. Tuttle, a wildly incompetent doctor who freely gives random pill samples and presses one drug, Infermiterol, that produces three-day blackouts. None of which is the stuff of comedy. But Moshfegh has a keen sense of everyday absurdities, a deadpan delivery, and such a well-honed sense of irony that the narrator’s predicament never feels tragic; this may be the finest existential novel not written by a French author. (Recovering from one blackout, the narrator thinks, “What had I done? Spent a spa day then gone out clubbing?...Had Reva convinced me to go ‘enjoy myself’ or something just as idiotic?”) Checking out of society the way the narrator does isn’t advisable, but there’s still a peculiar kind of uplift to the story in how it urges second-guessing the nature of our attachments while revealing how hard it is to break them.

A nervy modern-day rebellion tale that isn’t afraid to get dark or find humor in the darkness.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52211-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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