Reviews of the Week with Catherine Doyle, Han Kang, and More!

Every weekday we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, or in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight. We’ve collected the reviews from December 31–January 4 below.

 

Monday, December 31

The Storm Keeper’s Island, by Catherine Doyle

Eleven-year-old Fionn Boyle knows that “places can be just as important as people . . . they can have the same power over you if you let them.” Fionn and his sister are spending the summer with their grandfather, Malachy Boyle, on Arranmore Island, off the coast of Ireland. Nestled among the unpredictable wildflowers is Fionn’s ancestral home, a rickety cottage stuffed with eclectic candles. As Fionn quickly learns, Arranmore holds secrets. Every generation, a Storm Keeper is chosen and imbued with the magic of the sea. They wield power over the elements and record moments in time in the form of candles. Malachy’s time as Arranmore’s Storm Keeper is ending, and another family on the island is vying for the position.

 

Wednesday, January 2

The White Book, by Han Kang. Tr. by Deborah Smith

Shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker International Prize, the latest from South Korean author Kang (Human Acts, 2017) is a grieving woman’s rumination on things that are white, in titled fragments. The unnamed narrator moves to a different country for the winter and mourns the girl her mother gave birth to before her, an infant that died only a few hours after birth. In “White City,” she passes through a town that had been obliterated by Nazis for attempting to fight back. In “Ashes,” she meditates on the mysterious calm of death and the struggle of life, the highs and lows only the living experience. In “Salt,” she realizes that in life, one has the power to heal, preserve, and endure. And in “Your Eyes,” the narrator contemplates how her sister’s death allowed her to live—if the infant had survived, she would have never been born.

 

Thursday, Janaury 3

The Tall Man and the Small Mouse, by Mara Bergman

“On a tall hill / in a tall house / lived a tall man / and a small mouse.” They have never met. The mouse excels at finding lost pins, coins, and rings, while the tall man finds work suitable for a man of his stature: picking apples, fixing swing sets, and rescuing kites from trees. But one job baffles him: he can’t fix the town clock because he can’t see inside it. One morning, he meets the small mouse. Fascinated by the lost objects she has found, the tall man takes his clever housemate to the town clock. She slips inside, looks about, and fixes the problem. As the story ends, the two have become good friends.

 

Friday, January 4

 Elsewhere, Home, by Leila Aboulela

In the final short story in this compelling collection, a devoted fan writes to an author, “You understood that the West’s image of ‘the Muslim woman’ was a reduced, simplified cliché.” Aboulela’s (The Kindness of Enemies, 2016) tales emphatically shatter any such stereotype, forcefully reminding us of the layered lives behind ethnic and religious identities. Roaming between Sudan and Scotland, with stops in Cairo and Abu Dhabi, this book offers an atypical lens on Muslim identity while exploring themes of displacement, homesickness, and fulfillment. Avoiding an overtly political tone, Aboulela nonetheless sets out to challenge preconceptions and the uneasy intersection of the West with the rest of the world.

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About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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