A historical novel about a mismatched couple spends too little time with its most interesting character.

OLGA

In a story that sweeps across a century, a woman who stays home is more engaging that her lover who explores the world.

Born near the end of the 19th century in a small town in Poland, Olga Rinke endures a childhood marked by poverty and loneliness. After her parents’ deaths, she’s raised by her cold German grandmother in a village in Pomerania. A bright and curious student, Olga finds solace in school and in her friendship and, later, more with Herbert Schröder, son of the richest man in the village. When they fall in love, his family disapproves, so they pursue their affair in secret. Restless and self-centered (and none too bright), Herbert is colonialism on the hoof. As a soldier in South West Africa during Germany’s genocide against the Herero people, he feels an occasional twitch of empathy: “But they had perished with their cattle and like cattle; they had been lying on the ground, and he had been on horseback.” Herbert, obsessed with travel and exploration, is often gone for months or years, but Olga remains faithful to him. Her instincts for community and stability run counter to his—she becomes a teacher, forms friendships, joins unions and churches, and creates a comfortable home for herself. She waits uncomplainingly for Herbert’s visits and, even after he leaves her life for good, carries a torch. Later in life, working as a seamstress, she grows close to Ferdinand, the young son of an employer. He takes over the book’s narration, recounting Olga as a mother figure and an intellectual equal with whom he remains friends for the rest of her life. The novel covers more than a century, and its swathes of historical exposition take the reader away from Olga; it’s strongest when it pauses to explore the intimate texture of her life, but those pauses are too brief. She’s an intriguing character, but Herbert isn’t, making her devotion to him a puzzle. A couple of big reveals about Olga are telegraphed so early and so broadly that they lack punch when they come.

A historical novel about a mismatched couple spends too little time with its most interesting character.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-311292-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HarperVia

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW

The adventures of a trio of genius kids united by their love of gaming and each other.

When Sam Masur recognizes Sadie Green in a crowded Boston subway station, midway through their college careers at Harvard and MIT, he shouts, “SADIE MIRANDA GREEN. YOU HAVE DIED OF DYSENTERY!” This is a reference to the hundreds of hours—609 to be exact—the two spent playing “Oregon Trail” and other games when they met in the children’s ward of a hospital where Sam was slowly and incompletely recovering from a traumatic injury and where Sadie was secretly racking up community service hours by spending time with him, a fact which caused the rift that has separated them until now. They determine that they both still game, and before long they’re spending the summer writing a soon-to-be-famous game together in the apartment that belongs to Sam's roommate, the gorgeous, wealthy acting student Marx Watanabe. Marx becomes the third corner of their triangle, and decades of action ensue, much of it set in Los Angeles, some in the virtual realm, all of it riveting. A lifelong gamer herself, Zevin has written the book she was born to write, a love letter to every aspect of gaming. For example, here’s the passage introducing the professor Sadie is sleeping with and his graphic engine, both of which play a continuing role in the story: “The seminar was led by twenty-eight-year-old Dov Mizrah....It was said of Dov that he was like the two Johns (Carmack, Romero), the American boy geniuses who'd programmed and designed Commander Keen and Doom, rolled into one. Dov was famous for his mane of dark, curly hair, wearing tight leather pants to gaming conventions, and yes, a game called Dead Sea, an underwater zombie adventure, originally for PC, for which he had invented a groundbreaking graphics engine, Ulysses, to render photorealistic light and shadow in water.” Readers who recognize the references will enjoy them, and those who don't can look them up and/or simply absorb them. Zevin’s delight in her characters, their qualities, and their projects sprinkles a layer of fairy dust over the whole enterprise.

Sure to enchant even those who have never played a video game in their lives, with instant cult status for those who have.

Pub Date: July 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-32120-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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