Disarmingly plainspoken narration brings into sharp relief both individuals and a world in wartime crisis.

WHITE SHADOW

The second novel in Jacobsen’s Ingrid Barrøy trilogy is set during Norway’s World War II occupation by Germany, telescoping the national predicament through the narrow lens of a solitary woman’s experience.

Seasons, representing both change and constancy, are again Jacobsen’s central organizing principle, this time covering not generations but one year. A decade after The Unseen (2020) ended, most inhabitants of Barrøy, an island in a remote archipelago, have scattered. Only Ingrid, now 35, remains to follow an isolated, hand-to-mouth routine. Jacobsen built the earlier novel upon an accumulation of small daily moments, but Norway’s German occupation offers more conventional drama. Germans are stationed on the main island, a hard boat ride away but within Ingrid’s sight. In late autumn she is jolted when bodies in tattered, unrecognizable uniforms mysteriously turn up on Barrøy. One is barely alive. Ingrid nurses him and they become lovers in an intense idyll that can’t last. Days after he escapes (with her help), she awakens in a faraway hospital room with no memory of what happened in the days since their farewell. With her doctor’s help, she recovers shards of memory about a visit from a German officer and local police chief searching for her soldier, who was probably a Russian POW; but she resists remembering too much. Back on Barrøy by early winter, she is joined by her aunt Barbro, who intuits that Ingrid is pregnant. As more memories return, Ingrid worries the father might be one of the men who visited, but what happened with them is discussed only obliquely. This is minimalist fiction with a protagonist of impressive competence—traveling home on a whaler filled with ragged evacuees from Finland and Lapland, Ingrid takes charge of their care, then helps them settle on the main island—but with little interest in revealing herself. And yet Ingrid is a kind of magnet. Her doctor is attracted to her “intuitive” intelligence, as are the whaler’s captain and several youthful evacuees who move to the island to fish and help Ingrid build a new house. Before long, Barrøy's former inhabitants also begin to trickle home, creating new dramas and possibilities.

Disarmingly plainspoken narration brings into sharp relief both individuals and a world in wartime crisis.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-77196-403-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 35

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

more