A wartime coming-of-age story filled with nonstop action and genuine pathos.

MAD BOY

Across the battlefields of the War of 1812, a young boy races to carry out his mother’s dying wish and rescue his father.

When 10-year-old Henry Phipps’ mother is killed in a bizarre accident, he strikes out over the Maryland countryside to give her a burial at sea and free his alcoholic father from the Baltimore prison where his unpaid gambling debts have landed him. Arvin (The Reconstructionist, 2012, etc.) neatly blends conventional narrative, including vivid accounts of the British attack on the "muddy, malarial village" that is Washington, D.C., in August 1814 and the bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry that inspired Francis Scott Key to compose the “Star-Spangled Banner,” with refreshing touches of magic realism, like the voice of Henry’s deceased mother that guides him at key moments on his perilous journey. Henry is an engaging, resourceful hero of this picaresque tale, displaying endurance, ingenuity, and commendably mature generosity in his frequent encounters with soldiers, thieves, peddlers, and prostitutes, without ever losing passion for his twin goals. The story is seasoned with a well-drawn cast of supporting characters, including Henry’s sturdy older brother, Franklin, who survives a mock execution for desertion from his militia unit; a British soldier named Morley, who switches sides to fight with the Americans though his loyalties lie only with himself; and Radnor, a former slave who sees his best chance for permanent liberation in a victory of the redcoat army that welcomes his service. Arvin heightens the drama with a subplot that has several characters engaged in a race to recover two stolen sacks stuffed with gold and silver coin. At less than 250 pages, the novel is a masterpiece of compression without sacrificing character development to the demands of the relentless action and adventure. Sandwiched between the nation-defining glamour of the Revolutionary War and the epic conflict of the Civil War, the War of 1812 hasn’t garnered comparable attention in the world of fiction. Arvin’s robust novel helps redress that imbalance.

A wartime coming-of-age story filled with nonstop action and genuine pathos.

Pub Date: June 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60945-458-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

THE WINTER GUEST

An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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