An unflinching consideration of the long aftereffects of an affair cut short.

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BOLLA

Two men fall for each other in the wrong place at the wrong time in this bleak tale of love and war.

The third novel by the Kosovo-born Finnish novelist Statovci is structured around the alternating narratives of Arsim, a closeted gay man and aspiring Albanian writer, and Miloš, a medical student. Arsim is in emotional retreat twice over, entering a loveless marriage to hide his homosexuality and treading carefully in Pristina, Kosovo, where he’s an “Albanian in a world run by Serbs.” His furtive relationship with Miloš is exhilarating but short-lived: It’s 1995, and the Bosnian War soon sends Miloš to the front and Arsim to exile in an unnamed city. As the story follows the two into the 21st century, each has suffered badly, and an attempt at reconnection only reveals the depth of the damage. Miloš’ chapters are briefer and more impressionistic, suffused with horrific memories of war’s carnage. (“I have held a friend’s heart in the palm of my hand.”) Arsim’s chapters are more straightforward, but though his PTSD is less acute, he’s still suffused with fear, repression, and anger. He is routinely abusive toward his wife, Ajshe, and their children and makes a series of poor decisions that further sabotage his well-being. Statovci lets little sunlight into the narrative, the better to emphasize just how powerful homophobia and self-loathing can be, and Arsim is deeply unlikable; “may the Devil eat you,” Ajshe spits at him, and he deserves that world-class insult. But he comes undone in engrossing and complicated ways. Indeed, he’s so well drawn that Miloš’ portion of the narrative, however graceful, feels disproportionately thin. From either perspective, though, the mood is profoundly sorrowful.

An unflinching consideration of the long aftereffects of an affair cut short.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4920-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

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BILLY SUMMERS

The ever prolific King moves from his trademark horror into the realm of the hard-boiled noir thriller.

“He’s not a normal person. He’s a hired assassin, and if he doesn’t think like who and what he is, he’ll never get clear.” So writes King of his title character, whom the Las Vegas mob has brought in to rub out another hired gun who’s been caught and is likely to talk. Billy, who goes by several names, is a complex man, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War who’s seen friends blown to pieces; he’s perhaps numbed by PTSD, but he’s goal-oriented. He’s also a reader—Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin figures as a MacGuffin—which sets his employer’s wheels spinning: If a reader, then why not have him pretend he’s a writer while he’s waiting for the perfect moment to make his hit? It wouldn’t be the first writer, real or imagined, King has pressed into service, and if Billy is no Jack Torrance, there’s a lovely, subtle hint of the Overlook Hotel and its spectral occupants at the end of the yarn. It’s no spoiler to say that whereas Billy carries out the hit with grim precision, things go squirrelly, complicated by his rescue of a young woman—Alice—after she’s been roofied and raped. Billy’s revenge on her behalf is less than sweet. As a memoir grows in his laptop, Billy becomes more confident as a writer: “He doesn’t know what anyone else might think, but Billy thinks it’s good,” King writes of one day’s output. “And good that it’s awful, because awful is sometimes the truth. He guesses he really is a writer now, because that’s a writer’s thought.” Billy’s art becomes life as Alice begins to take an increasingly important part in it, crisscrossing the country with him to carry out a final hit on an errant bad guy: “He flopped back on the sofa, kicked once, and fell on the floor. His days of raping children and murdering sons and God knew what else were over.” That story within a story has a nice twist, and Billy’s battered copy of Zola’s book plays a part, too.

Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982173-61-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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

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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

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