Engaging and unsettling in equal measure.

THE WRONG END OF THE TELESCOPE

A Lebanese-born American surgeon reflects on her volunteer stint at a Greek refugee camp and her "cataclysmic family expulsion" for being trans.

It has been decades since the surgeon, a Harvard alumnus in her late 50s who lives with her wife in Chicago and goes by the adopted name Mina Simpson, was in the Middle East. But when a friend working for a Swedish NGO calls for help, she goes. The Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos is fast becoming "an inhumane [mess]," but Mina does her best to treat and comfort Sumaiya, a Syrian woman dying of cancer who has concealed her fate from her family.  As grim as things are there, and for all the daily atrocities that force people to flee their homeland—military bombings, terrorist attacks, bureaucratic cruelties, vile prejudice—Mina's measured account is streaked with irreverence. (Bono, Oprah, and Madonna are tagged "the gods of altruism.") Partly addressed to a blocked Lebanese writer of note who convinces her to chronicle her experience—for him, harsh reality has rendered storytelling "impotent"—Mina's account has a Scheherazade-like sparkle. Her subjects include a beautiful young woman who "refused squalor" by studding the pantry in her tent with sequins and the Lebanese writer's father, whose prized aviary atop his home overlooking Beirut was randomly shelled by the U.S. battleship New Jersey. Mina's own story about her struggle to overcome her mother's monstrous treatment and be seen for who she is is affecting and amusing. Such is the ease and openness of the narrative that it's tempting to read it as autobiographical. Alameddine, a queer San Franciscan who grew up in Kuwait and Lebanon, also was separated from his family. In any case, no one writes fiction that is more naturally an extension of lived life than this master storyteller.

Engaging and unsettling in equal measure.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8021-5780-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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An exhilarating ride through Americana.

THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY

Newly released from a work farm in 1950s Kansas, where he served 18 months for involuntary manslaughter, 18-year-old Emmett Watson hits the road with his little brother, Billy, following the death of their father and the foreclosure of their Nebraska farm.

They leave to escape angry townspeople who believe Emmett got off easy, having caused the fatal fall of a taunting local boy by punching him in the nose. The whip-smart Billy, who exhibits OCD–like symptoms, convinces Emmett to drive them to San Francisco to reunite with their mother, who left town eight years ago. He insists she's there, based on postcards she sent before completely disappearing from their lives. But when Emmett's prized red Studebaker is "borrowed" by two rambunctious, New York–bound escapees from the juvie facility he just left, Emmett takes after them via freight train with Billy in tow. Billy befriends a Black veteran named Ulysses who's been riding the rails nonstop since returning home from World War II to find his wife and baby boy gone. A modern picaresque with a host of characters, competing points of view, wandering narratives, and teasing chapter endings, Towles' third novel is even more entertaining than his much-acclaimed A Gentleman in Moscow (2016). You can quibble with one or two plot turns, but there's no resisting moments such as Billy's encounter, high up in the Empire State Building in the middle of the night, with professor Abacus Abernathe, whose Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers, and Other Intrepid Travelers he's read 24 times. A remarkable blend of sweetness and doom, Towles' novel is packed with revelations about the American myth, the art of storytelling, and the unrelenting pull of history.

An exhilarating ride through Americana.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522235-9

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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