An engrossing, lushly written, sometimes bleak, but often exuberant meditation on human connectedness.

JACOBO THE TURKO

A NOVEL IN VERSES

A restless migrant gets ensnared in the war on terror in this labyrinthine poem cycle.

Bannowsky’s poems follow the misadventures of Jacobo Males Bitar, the illegitimate son of an immigrant Lebanese spa owner in Ecuador and his Native Ecuadorian accountant. Born in 1985, Jacobo becomes steeped in his mother’s Inca folk traditions and the lore of his father’s far-flung Maronite Catholic clan. True to his immigrant heritage, Jacobo embarks on his own international picaresque when, entranced by the idea of America, he goes to Delaware on a work visa in 2005 and gets a series of cruddy jobs. After he loses his passport, he’s arrested in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid and deported to Lebanon, a country he has never seen. There, he’s taken in by Muhammad Abu Barghouti Hamoudi, a Palestinian whose family lives in a refugee camp. Using money earned by smuggling hashish, Jacobo and Hamoudi get forged Turkish passports and leave Beirut during the Israel-Hezbollah War of 2006. Jacobo winds up in Istanbul, where he is kidnapped, handed over to United States intelligence officials, falsely charged with being a terrorist, and flown to Guantánamo Bay. Intertwined with his travails are poetic sketches of other characters, including his father, Elías; Olga Fisch, a Hungarian Jewish woman who left Europe in the 1930s and opened an Indigenous arts-and-crafts shop in Quito; Lawrence Wells, a U.S. special forces officer whose path repeatedly crosses Jacobo’s; and Leila, a Black American woman who shares a brief romance with the protagonist. Other poems digress into deep history. One explores an effort by the seventh-century Byzantine Emperor Constans II to stamp out theological controversies.

Bannowsky makes Jacobo a modern, global Everyman, adrift with other migrant strivers in a world that seems bent on either exploiting or scapegoating him. Yet Jacobo isn’t isolated. He and other wanderers stay tethered to a remembered past while they search for uncertain opportunities and new relationships—the very essence of the human condition from its ancient beginnings, the author suggests. (“Every Maronite shows haplotype J2, / the gene that presents in all Phoenicia’s costal colonies,” Elías boasts. “Thus, from a hundred streams, / we bear the traits of our great ancestors.”) Bannowsky’s characters explore these themes in a profusion of distinctive voices, from the stolid bureaucratese of Jacobo’s Guantánamo interrogators—“History of anxiety and depression: bi-polar symptoms including delusions of being a U.S. Citizen, an American Indian, or an ‘Otavalo from Ecuador’—to Leila’s wary rap soliloquy. (“Whatchu know about my people; / watchu know about the street? / You see a pusher for a preacher / and a hustler for a teacher / in every brother that you meet?”) The author’s poetry mixes quirky erudition with perfectly pitched demotic speech that jumbles street slang with pop genetics and doughnut recipes. His verse captures even a poultry plant with an evocative lyricism (“Like a lone star in the manurey firmament that was / the warehouse, a single light bulb shown / on thousands of white chickens across a sea of dark dirt; they / roiled softly like expiring foam, / clucking mild reproaches at our approach”). The result is an entertaining, soulful verse tale of people trying to find their places in the world.

An engrossing, lushly written, sometimes bleak, but often exuberant meditation on human connectedness.

Pub Date: June 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-9788451-5-5

Page Count: 132

Publisher: Broken Turtle Books LLC

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2021

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An intriguing meditation on the meaning of “meant to be.”

MEANT TO BE

Giffin’s latest charts the course of true love between an American aristocrat and a troubled fashionista.

Almost immediately, readers will guess that Giffin’s protagonist, Joseph S. Kingsley III, a media darling since birth, is a re-creation of John F. Kennedy Jr. In addition to Joe’s darkly handsome good looks, there are many other similarities, such as his double failure of the New York bar exam and his stint as a Manhattan assistant district attorney. But Joe’s late father was an astronaut, not the president, and locations associated with the Kennedys, such as Hyannis Port and Martha’s Vineyard, have been moved to the Hamptons and Annapolis. Instead of a sister, Joe has a protective female best friend, Berry Wainwright. Readers may be so obsessed with teasing out fact from fiction, and wondering if the outcome for Joe is going to be as tragic as JFK Jr.’s fatal 1999 flight, that they may be distracted from the engaging story of Joe’s co-protagonist, Cate Cooper, who is—apart from a superficial resemblance to Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy—largely a fictional creation. When Joe and Cate meet-cute on a Hamptons beach where Cate, a model, is posing, both are immediately smitten. However, the paparazzi are determined to milk every ounce of scandal from the social chasm separating them. On the surface, Cate is the product of a middle-class upbringing in Montclair, New Jersey, but her interrupted education and her forced flight from an abusive home have shamed as well as strengthened her. Like her real-life counterpart, Cate rises in the fashion industry and becomes known for her minimalist style. The couple’s courtship drags a bit on the page despite witty banter and steamy encounters. It is the conflict brewing when their pedigrees clash, and, particularly, Cate’s consciousness of the disparity, that grips us. Whether these knockoffs can avoid the fates of the originals is the main source of suspense here.

An intriguing meditation on the meaning of “meant to be.”

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-425-28664-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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