‘Out of Darkness, Shining Light’ by Petina Gappah

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Racism, misogyny and the ironies that arise from situations in which we “do right” are just a few of the topics taken on in Petina Gappah’s new novel Out of Darkness, Shining Light.

A historical novel that fictionalizes the actual removal of a missionary and doctor’s body out of Africa in the late 1800s, Out of Darkness, Shining Lightis told from two unexpected perspectives. One is Halima, Doctor David Livingston’s cook, and the other is Jacob Wainwright, a freed slave and a Christian. Through these two narrators, we are afforded a glimpse into the harrowing journey of the group of people that literally carried Livingstone to the edge of the Earth.

While the frame of the novel centers around Livingstone’s removal from Africa, the core of the book gets at much deeper themes. Halima is a slave who is maybe not a slave, who is treated like the woman she is: not as worthy, intelligent, or capable as her male counterparts. She is chastised for having feelings for a man when her partner is abusive, and their union is forced. She is made fun of for loving a child that isn’t hers. She’s told she can never own a house even if she is free one day, simply because she’s a woman. And yet, it’s Halima who provides for the group. Halima who in the end is shown to be the strongest of all.

Jacob Wainwright on the other hand, the pious Christian that he is, denounces the savagery of his countrymen and aims to convert all of Africa to the one true religion: Christianity. He parallels his savage counterparts in his treatment and view of women as inherently evil, in his blasé reflections on punishment and death, and in his othering of all who are not what he sees as the ideal. And yet, he in many ways is a victim of his circumstances: stolen as a child, shipped across the sea, and taught the white man’s view of white vs. wrong.

A cutting, funny, and most often horrifying novel, Petina Gappah’s Out of Darkness, Shining Lightis a beautiful and soulful book that tells a story that desperately needs to be told.

Slated for release by Scribner Books on September 10, 2019, you can preorder a copy of Out of Darkness, Shining Lightby Petina Gappah at your local independent bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

‘This Tender Land’ by William Kent Krueger

this-tender-land-kruegerWilliam Kent Krueger’s latest novel, This Tender Land, takes on the task of emulating the American Classic in a number of ways. A group of outcast youngsters, down on their luck, living in an abusive, historical setting escape their captors to adventure down the Mississippi. Harkening back to landmark works like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finand Great Expectations, Krueger’s novel awakens a sort of nostalgia for the American Classic in the reader.

While the cast of characters is interesting and the adventures manifold, the novel falls short in its ambling structure and stride. The action is spread thin across the pages, making it challenging for the reader to keep pace. Krueger has moments where the action is clear and the prose beautiful, but overall, the novel takes heft of patience and perseverance to sift through.

Slated for release by Atria Books on September 3, 2019, you can preorder a copy of This Tender Landby William Kent Krueger at your local independent bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

 

 

‘The Wartime Sisters’ by Lynda Cohen Loigman

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War tears people apart, but so do lies, jealousy, and misunderstanding. In Lynda Cohen Loigman’s new novel The Wartime Sisters, Ruth and Millie find this out firsthand.

Millie has always been the golden child: beautiful, charming, and adored by everyone, including Ruth and Millie’s parents and all the boys in town. As long as Ruth can remember, Millie has been shattering her sister’s perfect and ordered life. So, when she gets the chance, Ruth runs as far away as she can with her family, hoping to leave everything about Millie and their past behind.

Millie, though, doesn’t embrace her beauty and seemingly mystical charm over men. She wants to find true love, sure, and she appreciates her parents’ affection, but she doesn’t want to only be seen for her looks. She feels wronged by Ruth. She sees Ruth’s constant taunting and accusing tone as one that is meant to make her feel inadequate. Millie is torn between wanting to repair the relationship she’s never really had with Ruth and forget it ever existed.

When World War II starts, things become even more trying for the sisters as they grapple with the effects of the war on their family and loved ones. When Millie’s husband disappears in battle, Ruth takes the first step in breaking down the wall between the two sisters and invites Millie to live with her and her family. Millie, though, starts embodying all of the labels and fixed ideas that Ruth has set out for her, and soon the sisters are back at war where they started.

Loigman takes us on a journey of what it means to repair a life after a deep-set trauma. She does this not only through Ruth and Millie’s eyes, but through the eyes of other female narrators who have similar stories to tell. Through it all, the message is clear: be strong, fight for what is right, and forgive.

Being pulled out of the novel by a constantly shifting narrator could at times detract from the pace of and investment in the novel. It felt hard to get close enough to any one character to feel their plight acutely enough to be wholly invested in them as a character. I found myself wanting to return to Ruth’s point of view most often, because that was the one that felt most fleshed out and palpable. Nonetheless, The Wartime Sisterswas an overall satisfying read, with simple and eloquent prose. The Wartime Sistersis a quick read that is perfect for fans of The Orphan’s Tale or Girl in The Blue Coat.

Slated for related from St. Martin’s Press on January 22, 2019, you can preorder a copy ofThe Wartime Sistersby Lynda Cohen Loigman at your local bookstore.

Read more historical fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

 

‘McGlue’ by Otessa Moshfegh

mcglue-moshfegh.jpgMcGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh is a novel born into the American literary tradition in an explosive way. Echoing beacons like Edgar Allan Poe and Nathanial Hawthorne, McGlue is a dark and nuanced novel.

Moshfegh takes us through the mind and madness of an alcoholic, McGlue, living in the late 1800s. McGlue is being held on a ship, tied to his bed and raving. The captain and other men on board tell him that he’s killed his best friend and lover, Johnson, but McGlue knows this can’t be true. Then again, he can’t exactly remember, especially without a drink to put his mind in order. Going from near dead drunk to a tormented withdrawal, McGlue tries to piece together exactly what happened, and the reader is beside him the whole way.

We sit in the jail cell with McGlue, and Johnson at times, wondering ourselves what’s true and what isn’t. Sometimes we are with McGlue and his mother, or in McGlue’s past as a child with his now dead siblings. Moshfegh weaves together past and present in ways that often make it hard to parse out exactly where we are in time at all, which it seems is also true for McGlue. In this tight first-person narration, we are so close to McGlue we start to feel his madness, his anger, his unbelievably unfair circumstances, and yet we know something is missing.

Moshfegh does a fantastic job of creating a voice for a character that remains constant and unbroken throughout the entire 145 pages. The drunken banter, the desperate pleading, all of it is McGlue the whole time, and it’s fantastic.

Slated for release by Penguin Books on January 8, 2019, you can preorder a copy of McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh from your local bookstore.

Read more fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

The First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

the-first-conspiracy-meltzer-menschThe First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch tells the story of America’s first acts of criminal espionage against the government and the government’s first act of counter espionage.

Meltzer and Mensch follow the development of a plot against the Continental Army prior to the start of the Revolutionary War and follows this plot through to the independence of America from Great Britain. The plan involves bribery, treason, and potential plans for murder, and the plan it seems infiltrated the army itself involving people close to George Washington both professionally and personally. While following this plot, Meltzer and Mensch are also keen to point out the ways in which this first act of counter-espionage came to inform current institutions such as the Secret Service and FBI.

While the book is teeming with fun historical facts and interesting tidbits from America’s cultural past, it too often reads like a textbook. The characters are distant and unreachable, possibly in part because of their historical presence and also because of Meltzer and Mensch’s marriage to telling the truth. It’s arguably challenging to create a compelling character when you can only know that character through Congress notes and an odd journal entry. Similarly, the conflict in the book, while undeniability riveting in its content, is not as much so in its telling.

Throughout the course of the book though, Meltzer and Mensch achieve their goal of telling the history of American counterintelligence and sharing details of American history that might have been glossed over in our grade school textbooks.

Slated for release by Flatiron Books in January of 2019, you can preorder a copy of The First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch from your local bookstore.

Read more non-fiction book reviews at Centered on Books.

FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.