Tender, intelligent, and brilliant.

WHERE YOU COME FROM

A man displaced by war considers what it means when your home country ceases to exist.

Where do you come from? It seems like an easy enough question, but for the narrator of Stanišić’s novel, it’s anything but. When he’s asked the question, he equivocates: “First it depends on what your where is aiming at….However you look at it, your place of origin is just a construct! A kind of costume you have to wear forever once it’s been put on you. And so a curse!” The narrator—who shares his name and nationality with the author—has good reason for his vagueness. He lives in Germany, but his home country is harder to pin down: "The country where I was born no longer exists. For as long as the country still existed, I thought of myself as Yugoslavian. Like my parents, who were from Serbian (Father) and Bosnian-Muslim (Mother) families.” The novel alternates between stories of the narrator’s upbringing in Heidelberg, where his family fled after the breakout of the Yugoslav Wars, and memories of his grandmother, who’s slowly losing her memory to dementia. Stanišić has a deft hand at both the tragic and the comic: The narrator’s family “shattered along with Yugoslavia and have not yet been able to put ourselves back together again,” he writes in one passage, but later proclaims himself “the Puberty World Champion in Avoiding-Talking-to-Parents,” whose mother “probably wanted to strangle [him] with a scallion” after he became a vegetarian to impress a girl he liked. The novel ends with a Choose Your Own Adventure–style narrative that’s rendered perfectly and heartbreakingly; it’s affecting but not manipulative. Stanišić's book, ably translated by Searls, is full of tenderness and compassion and also a real intelligence—it’s a stunning novel that asks what it really means to be from somewhere, anywhere. “Words lurk over my head, they unnerve me, delight me, I need to find the right ones among them for this story,” Stanišić writes. He found them for sure.

Tender, intelligent, and brilliant.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-951142-75-9

Page Count: -

Publisher: Tin House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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Unanswerable questions wrapped inside a thought-provoking yarn.

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THE STRANGER IN THE LIFEBOAT

An inspirational novel about a disaster and an answered prayer by the author of The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2003).

What if you call out for the Lord and he actually appears before you? Days after billionaire Jason Lambert’s luxury yacht Galaxy suddenly sinks in the North Atlantic with many illustrious passengers aboard, a few survivors float in a life raft. Among them is Benji, a deckhand who narrates the ordeal in a notebook while they desperately hope for rescue. Lambert is a caricature of a greedy capitalist pig who thinks only of himself and his lost ship and mocks Benji as “scribble boy,” but the main character is a young stranger pulled out of the water. “Well, thank the Lord we found you,” a woman tells him. “I am the Lord,” he whispers in reply. Imagine the others’ skepticism: If you’re not lying, then why won’t you save us? Why don’t you answer our prayers? I always answer people’s prayers, he replies, “but sometimes the answer is no.” Meanwhile, the ship’s disappearance is big news as searchers scour the vast ocean in vain. The lost survivors are surrounded by water and dying of thirst, “a grim reminder of how little the natural world cares for our plans.” Out of desperation, one person succumbs to temptation and drinks ocean water—always a bad mistake. Another becomes shark food. The Lord says that for him to help, everyone must accept him first, and Lambert, for one, is having none of it. The storyline and characters aren’t deep, but they’re still entertaining. A disaffected crew member might or might not have sunk the ship with limpet mines. And whether the raft’s occupants survive seems beside the point—does a higher power exist that may pluck believers like Benji safely from the sea? Or is faith a sucker’s bet? Lord knows.

Unanswerable questions wrapped inside a thought-provoking yarn.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-288834-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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