Blurring the edges between history and fiction, this achingly mournful work impresses with its grave empathy.

HOUSE ON ENDLESS WATERS

A celebrated Israeli novelist’s visit to Amsterdam, the city where he was born, triggers the search for his origins that—unknowingly—he has been waiting to make his entire life.

Paying thoughtful homage to the Jews of Amsterdam, trapped in the Nazis' inexorable vise of persecution, Israeli writer Elon (If You Awaken Love, 2007, etc.) has composed a story of love, loss, and yearning, expressed through the creation of a novel within a novel. Her central character, writer Yoel Blum, was instructed by his mother never to visit the city from which she, Yoel, and his sister fled, but after her death he makes the trip and accidentally sees a clip of prewar film that opens up questions of identity he feels compelled to explore. So Yoel settles in Amsterdam, in a tacky hotel right near the hospital where he was born, and begins to accumulate notes for a novel through which he will try to make sense of the past. This second story features Sonia, a mother, and her two children, Nettie and Leo, characters who both animate Yoel’s knowledge of the past and accompany him into the present as he wanders the streets, accumulating information, acquaintances, and atmosphere, while slowly coming to terms with the truth. Heavily shadowed with the creeping horrors of the Holocaust—in particular the heart-wrenching choice to hide children and the consequences of that choice—the novel is given weight by its focus on Yoel’s psychology and the mood of a beautiful capital flowing with symbolic dark water. Lyrically phrased and often powerfully visual, the novel has a slow pace, unlike other, perhaps more conventional war stories. However, this deeply felt tale offers a rewarding meditation on survival and on digesting the emotional burdens freely or unknowingly carried.

Blurring the edges between history and fiction, this achingly mournful work impresses with its grave empathy.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3022-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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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