An engaging story about a brilliant woman who risks everything.

BELLE GREENE

In this fictionalization of a true story, a young Black woman named Belle da Costa Green passes for White and rises to become the first director of J.P. Morgan’s library.

In this extensively researched historical novel, we see Belle from the time she’s a young woman born Belle Greener, daughter of the first Black man to graduate from Harvard. After he abandons his family, Belle makes a pact with her mother and siblings to change their surname and pass for White. They swear secrecy. None will have children, for fear of being found out: “Six irrevocably intertwined fates, and if any one of them were to fall short, it would bring the others down with it.” Brilliant, bookish, and unsentimental, Belle gets a job at the Princeton library, where she meets Junius Spencer Morgan and eventually finds her way to his uncle J.P., who’s looking for someone to oversee his new project. Belle’s literary expertise helps her secure Morgan’s trust, and he rewards her with the responsibility of shaping the library’s collection. Belle closes herself off to thoughts of her heritage or her former life. Her focus on success remains singular. Morgan is mercurial and possessive. Belle is formidable. She’s torn by twin feelings: “the intoxication of feeling herself to be free, and the frustration of having to submit to the tyranny of her master.” Eventually, Morgan sends her to Europe to bid on items at auction; the library is entirely hers to shape. Yet she’s aware at all times that she has “a career based entirely on the protection of an individual more rich and powerful than [herself].” Tension builds as Belle tries to avoid losing the career that supports her family. As she tries to outbid the other collectors of the day in a new world that’s full of wealth and eager to grab up the world’s treasures, she presents a carefully shaped persona. She adopts a new background because she believes it’s the only way to succeed in a broken system. Passing for White puts Belle’s life at risk every day. She’s consumed by the library and her secret; scenes with her real-life historical counterparts are fleshed out with dialogue drawn from primary sources such as letters. Occasionally these conversations feel stilted, but Belle's story is so exceptional that readers won’t mind.

An engaging story about a brilliant woman who risks everything.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-60945-758-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS

An ambitious young Italian woman makes her way among the émigrés of 1930s and ’40s Hollywood.

Maria Lagana has come to Los Angeles after her father is sentenced to confino—internal exile—for his anti-fascist advocacy in Mussolini’s Italy. Living with her mother in the Italian American neighborhood of Lincoln Heights—also home to a trio of no-nonsense great-aunts forever dressed in black—Maria finds work as a typist at Mercury Pictures International, working in the office of studio head Artie Feldman, a fast-talking showman with a collection of toupées for every occasion. In time, the letters from her father stop, and Maria becomes an associate producer, Artie’s trusted right hand, as well as the secret lover of Eddie Lu, a Chinese American actor relegated to roles as Japanese villains. When a young Italian immigrant turns up at her door introducing himself as Vincent Cortese, Maria’s past—and the mystery of what happened to her father—crashes into her present. Like the author’s earlier novels, the award-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013) and The Tsar of Love and Techno (2015), this one builds a discrete world and shows how its denizens are shaped—often warped—by circumstance. But the Hollywood setting feels overfamiliar and the characters curiously uninvolving. While the prose frequently sings, there are also ripely overwritten passages: At a party, the “thunking heels of lindy-hopping couples dimpled the boozy air”; fireworks are described as a “molten asterisk in the heavens to which the body on the ground is a footnote.”

The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-451-49520-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

THE MANY DAUGHTERS OF AFONG MOY

Covering 250 years, Ford’s new novel traces the way states of consciousness involving extreme moments of pain or joy interconnect seven generations of Chinese women.

Embedded images—airplanes, ships, waves—and the occasional ghostly vision highlight how these women’s lives reverberate as the focus moves back and forth in time. In 1942 China, Faye Moy, a nurse in her 50s who’s working with American forces, feels an eerie connection to a dying young pilot in whose pocket she finds a newspaper photograph of herself as a teenager and a note in her own handwriting that says, “FIND ME.” Finding oneself and/or one’s soul mate becomes the throughline of the book. Faye’s great-grandmother Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman in America, dies in childbirth after a short career being exhibited as a curiosity in the 1830s. Faye’s mother, Lai King (Afong’s granddaughter), sails to Canton after her parents’ deaths in San Francisco’s Chinatown fire of 1892. Onboard ship she bonds with a young White boy, also an orphan, and nurses him when contagion strikes. When Faye is 14, she has an illegitimate daughter who is adopted and raised in England. Presumably that girl is Zoe Moy, who, in 1927, attends the famously progressive Summerhill School, where a disastrous social experiment in fascism destroys her relationship with a beloved poetry teacher. In 2014, Zoe’s emotionally fragile granddaughter, Greta, loses both her skyrocketing tech career and the love of her life at the hands of an evil capitalist. While several earlier Moys receive aid and guidance from Buddhist monks, Greta’s troubled poet daughter, Dorothy, turns to both Buddhism and radical scientific treatment to uncover and understand how past crises, emotional, physical, and spiritual, are destabilizing her current life in 2045. Expect long treatises on anamnesis, quantum biology, and reincarnation before traveling with Dorothy’s adult daughter in 2086.

Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-5821-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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