A persuasively—almost musically—worded meditation on colonialism and whether it’s really possible to return home again.

THE LESSON

Sometimes the aliens don’t land in New York or London.

In fact, the alien Ynaa ship that catalyzes the emotional landscape and drives the action of this debut novel lands in the harbor of Water Island , one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Ynaa are decidedly a mixed bag, as aliens go: They don’t intend to conquer, just to stay for a while to do some unspecified research. In return, they give humans advances in medicine and other technology. The downside is that the Ynaa, who nearly appear to be human but are far stronger, live by a code of survival above all things and return any violence or even perceived violence done to them with more excessive violence, which the governments of the world decline to pursue legally. Five years after the landing, many islanders are unhappy about the occasional dog ripped in half and young man’s neck snapped. Moreover, the Ynaa are being less than forthcoming: The Ynaa ambassador, Mera, has been here far longer than most humans know. But that time has done more to damage her relationship with the Ynaa than with humanity; her intimate contacts with humans and the brutality she witnessed centuries ago when she posed as a slave have caused her to question both her people’s way of life and their mysterious mission. Her struggle to reconcile her origins with her experiences and present circumstances is mirrored by several humans on the island—including Shawn, the angry brother of a boy killed by the Ynaa; Patrice, a young woman who went to the mainland U.S. for college but has returned pregnant; her ex-boyfriend Derrick, dubbed a traitor for his job working for Mera; and Derrick’s grandmother Henrietta who refuses a Ynaa treatment for her cancer. All of them must come to their own conclusions, for good or for ill, as all of Water Island moves toward a final, explosive confrontation.

A persuasively—almost musically—worded meditation on colonialism and whether it’s really possible to return home again.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5385-8464-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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