A timeless and timely exploration of power, revolution, and survival.

THE PRESIDENT AND THE FROG

A former Latin American president reminisces on his remarkable life.

In Kirkus Prize finalist De Robertis’ new novel, the unnamed former president of a Latin American country is interviewed by a journalist. Inspired by the life of José Mujica, the former president of Uruguay, the novel’s 82-year-old protagonist—affectionately dubbed the “Poorest President in the World”—lives in a humble home with his wife and dogs and tends his infamous garden. As he sits down with the Norwegian interviewer, the former president finds himself drawn to her and wonders if he should share the deepest secret of his life, which he dubs “the story of the frog.” The narrative oscillates between the present-day interview (set shortly after the 2016 U.S. election) and memories of his past. A former guerrilla and revolutionary, he spent years of his life as a political prisoner in solitary confinement. Kept in a deep underground hole, the former president endured unspeakable torture and struggled to mentally persevere through the isolation. Unwilling to let the dictatorship win, he fought the urge to retreat from reality: “Every time temptation slunk toward him, he found himself rattled by and yet.” Just when he feels on the edge, a raucous frog appears in his cell begging to hear his memories (“I want stories. Want to eat your stories”). Reluctantly, the protagonist tells the frog about his past, including losing his father, learning to garden, falling in love, and organizing a revolution. In stunning, cleareyed prose, De Robertis writes beautifully about storytelling, justice, and hope amid brutality. In one particularly moving section, the protagonist tells the frog about the youth-led revolution born from a dream of justice. They wonder what their beloved country, on the verge of a dictatorship, could be if it was remade in a new image: “What if, what if, what if was the refrain of their great song.” In this slim novel, De Robertis sketches a portrait of a man who never stopped fighting for the betterment of himself, his country, and the world.

A timeless and timely exploration of power, revolution, and survival.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31841-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

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PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION

A travel writer has one last shot at reconnecting with the best friend she just might be in love with.

Poppy and Alex couldn't be more different. She loves wearing bright colors while he prefers khakis and a T-shirt. She likes just about everything while he’s a bit more discerning. And yet, their opposites-attract friendship works because they love each other…in a totally platonic way. Probably. Even though they have their own separate lives (Poppy lives in New York City and is a travel writer with a popular Instagram account; Alex is a high school teacher in their tiny Ohio hometown), they still manage to get together each summer for one fabulous vacation. They grow closer every year, but Poppy doesn’t let herself linger on her feelings for Alex—she doesn’t want to ruin their friendship or the way she can be fully herself with him. They continue to date other people, even bringing their serious partners on their summer vacations…but then, after a falling-out, they stop speaking. When Poppy finds herself facing a serious bout of ennui, unhappy with her glamorous job and the life she’s been dreaming of forever, she thinks back to the last time she was truly happy: her last vacation with Alex. And so, though they haven’t spoken in two years, she asks him to take another vacation with her. She’s determined to bridge the gap that’s formed between them and become best friends again, but to do that, she’ll have to be honest with Alex—and herself—about her true feelings. In chapters that jump around in time, Henry shows readers the progression (and dissolution) of Poppy and Alex’s friendship. Their slow-burn love story hits on beloved romance tropes (such as there unexpectedly being only one bed on the reconciliation trip Poppy plans) while still feeling entirely fresh. Henry’s biggest strength is in the sparkling, often laugh-out-loud-funny dialogue, particularly the banter-filled conversations between Poppy and Alex. But there’s depth to the story, too—Poppy’s feeling of dissatisfaction with a life that should be making her happy as well as her unresolved feelings toward the difficult parts of her childhood make her a sympathetic and relatable character. The end result is a story that pays homage to classic romantic comedies while having a point of view all its own.

A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0675-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

THE LIONESS

An actress and her entourage are kidnapped by Russians in Bohjalian’s uneven thriller.

In 1964, Hollywood’s gossip rags are agog as movie star Katie Barstow marries gallerist David Hill and takes her inner circle along on her honeymoon. And an adventuresome honeymoon it is—on safari in the Serengeti with aging big-game hunter Charlie Patton, who once helped Hemingway bag trophies. But Katie is not the star of this ensemble piece. The populous cast—a who’s who at the beginning is indispensable—includes Katie’s publicist, Reggie Stout; her agent, Peter Merrick; her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, a supporting actress who plays wisecracking sidekicks; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star, a Black actor who's challenging Sidney Poitier's singularity in Hollywood. With obvious nods to Hemingway’s worst fear—masculine cowardice—Bohjalian adds in Felix Demeter, Carmen’s husband, a B-list screenwriter who reminds his wife of Hemingway’s weakling Francis Macomber. Felix seems a superfluous double of David, who feels inadequate because Katie is the breadwinner and his father is CIA. Then there’s Katie’s older brother, Billy Stepanov, whose abuse at the hands of their mother shaped the psychologist he is today; Billy’s pregnant wife, Margie; and Benjamin Kikwete, an apprentice safari guide. Thus, a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story. The kidnapping plot seems less designed to test each character’s mettle than to exercise Bohjalian’s predilection for minute descriptions of gore. The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting. The motives behind the kidnapping might have lent intrigue to the proceedings, but foreshadowing is so slight that the infodump explainer at the end leaves us shocked, mostly at how haphazard the plot is.

Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54482-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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