Twin sisters cut adrift in a perilous, duplicitous world learn that “only the wise survive.” A formidable debut.

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BLACK SUNDAY

When things fall apart, four modern Nigerian siblings will need cunning to survive.

In this piercing, supple debut, a Nigerian father is scammed into ruin, and his wife, wearing her "favorite perfume, Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door," soon flees to New York. The couple had honeymooned in Spain and lived a comfortable life, but “my family unraveled rapidly,” says their daughter Ariyike, “in messy loose knots, hastening away from one another, shamefaced and lonesome, injured solitary animals in a happy world.” Ariyike sells water on the Lagos streets while her sister scrubs hospital toilets, their younger brothers both hungry and in need of school fees. All subsist with their complaining Yoruba grandmother. In a riveting sequence, Bibike helps her twin, Ariyike, transform into Keke to audition for an on-air radio job. A male acquaintance advises: “Dress sexy, be confident, smell nice, and if you are offered something to drink, ask for water first....If they insist, ask for something foreign and healthy, like green tea.” Keke isn’t chosen but leverages a position anyway by trading sex and plying her encyclopedic knowledge of Luke’s and Matthew’s Gospels. Thus begins her rise in Christian radio. Sex—often predatory—forms and deforms all four siblings; the novel features several rapes. Chapters alternate in each sibling’s voice over a stretch of 20 years. The brothers grow up and move to Chicago and out of the story. Abraham stuffs her novel past brimming, but its sophisticated structure and propulsive narration allow her to tuck in a biting critique of corrupt colonial religion and universally exploitative men. “It was fortunate to be beautiful and desired,” says Bibike, whose voice opens the story. “It made people smile at me. I was used to strangers wishing me well. But what is a girl’s beauty, but a man’s promise of reward?” Bibike eventually becomes a healer who cherishes their Yoruba grandmother while Keke, the wife of a powerful and monstrous pastor, tastes ashes—the source of the novel’s title.

Twin sisters cut adrift in a perilous, duplicitous world learn that “only the wise survive.” A formidable debut.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-948226-56-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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