Shrouded in sorrow and Scandinavian gloom and a central part of a masterwork of modernist literature.

OLAV AUDUNSSØN

II. PROVIDENCE

The second volume in Undset’s tetralogy finds its eponymous hero battling one enemy and one moral quandary after another.

The time is the 1300s, when Norway’s king declares that his people are no longer to go out raiding as Vikings but instead are to settle down into peaceable occupations: “Men were supposed to believe, whether they liked it or not, that God would not tolerate anyone plundering a fellow Christian, even if he happened to be a foreigner.” Ask a Viking to make nice, though, and you’ve got a problem on your hands. Olav, having been an outlaw raider after killing a member of his betrothed’s family, now tries to settle down with Ingunn Steinfinnsdatter on his ancestral estate east of Oslo Fjord. It’s not an easy transition. Olav is on his way to being a good Christian, but even so the Viking is strong in him: “He was…aware that he was supposed to show remorse because the murder was considered a sin, even though he couldn’t understand why it was so sinful,” writes Undset of his original sin (but not his first killing, and not his last). In the second volume of the four devoted to Olav, we find him constantly wrestling with a conscience newly awakened by conversations with learned priests—all Catholic, naturally, considering the time, a matter that brought controversy to Undset when the novel was published in officially Lutheran Norway in 1925. He also wrestles with the presence of the son his wife bore to another man, whom Olav also killed; the boy is a constant reminder of her infidelity, even as one child after another of Olav’s is stillborn or dies soon after birth. Ingunn weakens and ages while Olav remains handsome and strong, though riven by doubt. A bonus in the story: As the volume winds to an end, Olav meets a kind fellow named Lavrans Bjørgulfssøn, who, readers may recall, is the father of the protagonist of Undset’s best-known novel, Kristin Lavransdatter.

Shrouded in sorrow and Scandinavian gloom and a central part of a masterwork of modernist literature.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5179-1160-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota

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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