A novel rich with experience and imagination.

HOW THE SOLDIER REPAIRS THE GRAMOPHONE

Displaying a stylistic audacity that is often dazzling (and occasionally dizzying), this debut novel mixes fictionalized memoir, magical realism and a Catch-22 sense of war’s tragicomic absurdity.

Like his narrator, Aleksandar, novelist Stanišic left his native Bosnia for Germany as a teenager to escape the devastations of civil war and ethnic cleansing. But the 29-year-old author hasn’t simply translated his adolescent experience into fiction. Instead, he has fashioned a protagonist who considers himself a magician with words, an imaginative storyteller, “the artist of the lovely Unfinished!” Inspired by his grandfather, whose heart expired in a race with Carl Lewis in a record-breaking 100-yard dash (as they watch it on TV, his heart finishes before Lewis does), Aleksandar dedicates himself to spinning “stories that can make us laugh or cry, best of all both at the same time.” Some of these stories find him switching to the voice of a friend or an acquaintance. A significant part of the novel, and thus his story, is a series of letters to a girlfriend, perhaps imaginary, whom he hopes to help escape as he has (one of them is signed, “Do you remember me?”, another asks “Did I make you up?”). There’s also an extended book within the book, dedicated to his grandfather, with a foreword written by his grandmother (or written by Aleksandar in the voice of his grandmother?). Obvious throughout is that long after Aleksandar has left his homeland (“a country that doesn’t exist any more”), his homeland remains within him. He poetically describes what was once a part of Yugoslavia and later Bosnia as “A cold, bleak country / Naked and hungry…It is defiant / With sleep.” The innocence of Aleksandar, as he describes an upheaval that defies a young man’s understanding, is expertly filtered through the sensibility of a slightly older but still precocious novelist.

A novel rich with experience and imagination.

Pub Date: June 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8021-1866-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2008

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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