Emily Zibart

Have you ever wondered how a single decision might affect every aspect of your entire life? Kim Edwards, award-winning author of the short story collection The Secrets of a Fire King, addresses this question in her new novel, The Memory Keeper's Daughter. David Henry, a doctor who has escaped his humble beginnings in rural Pennsylvania, moves to Lexington, Kentucky, to begin his career. There, he meets Norah Asher, whom he marries after a brief but intense relationship. A year later, on a very snowy night in 1964, a pregnant Norah goes into labor and David and his trusted nurse, Caroline Gill, are the only witnesses to a heart-wrenching surprise: the birth of twins, one a perfectly healthy boy, the other a girl with the classic symptoms of Down syndrome.

Dr. Henry, convinced that his daughter's condition will only cause his family heartache and suffering, commands that Caroline immediately take her to an institution and tells his wife that their daughter died at birth in order to protect her. It is this fateful decision that continues to haunt the novel's characters for years to come.

Caroline attempts to follow Dr. Henry's wishes, but finds herself unable to leave the infant, Phoebe, and vanishes with her to start a new life. Norah, oblivious to the situation, feels an infinite void at the loss of her daughter, which leads her to withdraw from her marriage. David, who is constantly consumed by his dishonesty and guilt, turns to photography in an attempt to freeze the fleeting but distinct moments that make up life. The twins grow up in different states, sharing many traits but unaware of one another's existence.

Edwards takes on many themes in this novel, including the burden of secrets, the loneliness of a disintegrating marriage, the heartache and triumph of raising children and, most pointedly, the need for developmentally disabled children to feel accepted by society. The Memory Keeper's Daughter reveals the strength of family bonds under unique and difficult circumstances.

Emily Zibart writes from New York City.

Have you ever wondered how a single decision might affect every aspect of your entire life? Kim Edwards, award-winning author of the short story collection The Secrets of a Fire King, addresses this question in her new novel, The Memory Keeper's Daughter. David Henry, a doctor who has escaped his humble beginnings in rural Pennsylvania, […]

Don't let the title of Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian deceive you rather than an account of the development of farm equipment, it is a debut novel centered on the dilemma two estranged sisters face when their elderly ŽmigrŽ father falls in love with a gold-digging Ukrainian bombshell. However, tractor enthusiasts need not despair embedded in the novel is the father's magnum opus, after which the book is named.

The author, who herself was born to Ukrainian parents in a refugee camp and grew up in England, vividly depicts the life of Nadezhda, a sociology professor (thought by her entire family to be a social worker) whose 84-year-old father plans to marry the buxom 36-year-old Valentina in order to save her from a miserable life in the old country. When Nadezhda's na•ve hopes that the marriage will bring her father happiness in his old age are dashed, she and her sister Vera (with whom she has not spoken since their mother's death two years before) join forces to separate the unhappy couple. In doing so, they must scheme to send Valentina and her son back to the Ukraine while fending off their father's pleas for money to support Valentina's automobile addiction and his lecherous comments about the “superiority” of her figure.

Lewycka brings humor to the struggles of immigration and the difficulties inherent in the shift between the communist and capitalist ways of life, while maintaining gravity in her description of Nadezhda's family's escape to England. The lingual and cultural differences between the Ukraine and England provide many laughs, and Valentina, whose obsession with material possessions seems to be only an exaggeration of the materialism that has long existed in the West, is a villain the reader loves to hate. A quick, light story with flamboyant characters and a unique cultural framework, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is a good choice for any reader who enjoys tales of family drama.

Emily Zibart writes from New York City.

Don't let the title of Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian deceive you rather than an account of the development of farm equipment, it is a debut novel centered on the dilemma two estranged sisters face when their elderly ŽmigrŽ father falls in love with a gold-digging Ukrainian bombshell. However, tractor enthusiasts […]

Emily Raboteau, Pushcart Prize winner and recipient of several prestigious fellowships, lives up to her promise with The Professor's Daughter, her debut novel about a young woman of mixed race whose already turbulent life is turned upside down when a tragic accident puts her much-admired older brother in a coma.

Emma Boudreaux's father, Bernard, is truly a self-made man: a highly regarded black professor whose intelligence and perseverance have led him from the shack in Mississippi in which he was raised to a turreted residence in the university town of Princeton, New Jersey. By marrying a white woman, he hoped to shield his children from the prejudice he has endured throughout his life. But their mixed race causes Emma and her brother Bernie to feel alienated from both black and white culture. They are often subjected to the crude question, “What are you?” Bernie and Emma are fascinating characters the former a charismatic child whose words are so wise that adults treat him as a prophet; the latter a shy, studious young woman whose self-control extends to the ability to produce violent rashes on her body. Emma's own identity is so strongly linked with her brother's that, upon losing him, she flounders to find her own true self. In exploring Emma's identity, Raboteau turns to the story of Bernard Boudreaux's life. The descriptions of his childhood are particularly moving, vividly depicting his experiences at home with his caretaker, Nan Zan, and his Uncle Luscious (a scant eight months older than Bernard) and as the first and only black student at a Catholic boarding school in New Orleans. She also uncovers the secret of his own father's terrible death, which affects each member of the family in a drastic way. Raboteau's lyrical yet clear writing style lends itself well to this story, which is often both terrifying and beautiful. Her attention to detail and language creates an extremely compelling atmosphere that will keep readers turning page after page. A book with resonating themes and a powerful storyline, The Professor's Daughter is a strong debut from a talented writer. Emily Zibart writes from New York City.

Emily Raboteau, Pushcart Prize winner and recipient of several prestigious fellowships, lives up to her promise with The Professor's Daughter, her debut novel about a young woman of mixed race whose already turbulent life is turned upside down when a tragic accident puts her much-admired older brother in a coma. Emma Boudreaux's father, Bernard, is […]

Accomplished British journalist Carole Cadwalladr takes on a wide variety of weighty issues in her debut novel, The Family Tree, including the difficulties of family relationships, the plight of the English middle class, the aftermath of the women's liberation movement, the effects of pop culture on everyday life, and last but not least the argument of nature versus nurture. Yet the gravity of Cadwalladr's subject matter is brilliantly balanced by her light touch and sharp sense of humor, making the book a pleasure to read.

The premise of The Family Tree is refreshingly unique: the book itself is the thesis project of its engaging main character, Rebecca Monroe a discourse on how '70s pop culture has both affected and been influenced by the lives of women (complete with graph, charts, maps and hilarious footnotes explaining the significance of Love Story and Dallas ). To illustrate her point, Rebecca follows her own complicated family history, reaching back to her grandmother's thwarted romance with a Jamaican man and subsequent loveless marriage to a first cousin, through her parents' unhappy union and her mother's suicide and to the potential collapse of her own marriage. As the wife of a prominent scientist whose belief in genetic disposition encompasses characteristics ranging from mental illness to fidelity, Rebecca struggles with the idea that life as she knows it could be merely the result of mixings in her (slightly smaller than usual) gene pool. Despite having a family history that would stand up against the plot of any daytime TV drama, she constantly grasps at twists that would make the branches of her family tree even more tangled.

Cadwalladr writes with humor and intelligence, effectively tying together complicated plot lines that could in the hands of a less skilled author fall into the maudlin. The Family Tree is that rare book: a compelling and funny tale with underlying themes that will haunt the reader long after the cover is closed.

Emily Zibart writes from New York City.

 

Accomplished British journalist Carole Cadwalladr takes on a wide variety of weighty issues in her debut novel, The Family Tree, including the difficulties of family relationships, the plight of the English middle class, the aftermath of the women's liberation movement, the effects of pop culture on everyday life, and last but not least the argument […]

<B>Now you see it, now you don't</B> Thomas Moran, a former investigative journalist who now focuses on writing fiction, received critical acclaim for his first three novels. In particular, he has been praised for his ability to create memorable and effective characters. With his latest novel, Moran triumphs once again, giving readers a host of likable personalities and focusing on a problem that everyone faces: the need to put things in perspective.

<B>What Harry Saw</B> is set in Sydney, Australia, and its title character is a child delinquent-turned-newspaperman who considers himself emotionally scarred from various past experiences including losing his mother at an early age, dealing with an alcoholic father and suffering serious wounds in Vietnam. Harry struggles to come to terms with being left by his longtime girlfriend, Lucy, at the same time he faces caring for a father whose health is rapidly declining. An inherently selfish but incredibly likable man's man," Harry loses Lucy mainly because of his inability to express his true emotions. Moran expertly exposes Harry's shortcomings without making the narrator himself aware of them. Harry has his good qualities, but he also has two kinds of flaws: those he recognizes and those he doesn't.

<B>What Harry Saw</B> is all about the differences between reality and our view of it. The book begins with a hard-hitting rant about blindness. If you were blind, Harry questions, Could you ever be truly sure you were anywhere real at all?" After getting to know the character, the reader is led to wonder how much Harry and the rest of us really use the sight with which we have been blessed. Harry, almost completely unable to see perspectives other than his own, misses out on much that life offers.

In Harry, Moran has created an anti-hero whose easy-going outward personality clashes with the inner turmoil he experiences. Well written and cohesive themes of sight, memory and lack thereof run throughout the novel <B>What Harry Saw</B> is another winner for Thomas Moran and a treat for any book lover. <I>Emily Zibart is a student at Columbia University, where Thomas Moran earned his master's degree in journalism.</I>

<B>Now you see it, now you don't</B> Thomas Moran, a former investigative journalist who now focuses on writing fiction, received critical acclaim for his first three novels. In particular, he has been praised for his ability to create memorable and effective characters. With his latest novel, Moran triumphs once again, giving readers a host of […]

Author T. Greenwood's second novel has been highly anticipated since her debut, Breathing Water, won the Sherwood Anderson Award for best first novel in 1999. With Nearer than the Sky, Greenwood blends past and present, memory and reality, and the two separate lives of the main character—her family life, and the life she has chosen for herself in adulthood to show the effects that a mentally ill mother has on the people surrounding her.

The illness in question is the mysterious Munchausen Syndrome. Mothers with this disorder are so desperate for attention that they invent or even cause illness in their children. These women are unable to admit their abusiveness and have lives full of lies and denial. Greenwood is especially intrigued by this aspect of the disorder.

Indie Brown, the central figure in the novel, has worked hard to escape the traumatic experiences of her youth. Nevertheless, the memories of emotional and physical abuse still haunt her, and Indie's memories do not match the stories her mother tells. While Indie remembers the pain, her mother only recalls how she repeatedly "saved" her children from harm. As Indie writes in her journal, "In this story, in every story, she's always the hero." Far away geographically and emotionally from her childhood home, Indie is brought back to reality with a sudden phone call: "Ma's sick." Indie must go home to Arizona and face the pain of the memories and the reality that her mother and sister are both unwell.

By switching between the past and the present, Greenwood presents the reader with two stories: those of Indie's family life in 1970s Arizona, and Indie's independent life in the 1990s, complete with her view of the lives led by her sister and mother. Through these intertwined stories, the author reveals the long-term effects of Indie's childhood experiences.

Greenwood successfully keeps the reader on edge by exposing the eventual outcome of the story, but withholding her explanation of that outcome until the end of the book. Despite its disquieting subject, the novel is not entirely serious in tone; humor, irony, happiness, and melancholy all exist in Indie's life—as they do in most people's. Nearer than the Sky is a superb second effort for Greenwood.

Emily Zibart, a student at Columbia University, was a summer intern at BookPage.

Author T. Greenwood's second novel has been highly anticipated since her debut, Breathing Water, won the Sherwood Anderson Award for best first novel in 1999. With Nearer than the Sky, Greenwood blends past and present, memory and reality, and the two separate lives of the main character—her family life, and the life she has chosen […]

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