July 05, 2004 12:00 PM

By George Hagen

The Laments suffer adversity at every turn in this heartrending and surprisingly comic family saga. After their newborn is kidnapped, Howard and Julia Lament adopt Will, an orphaned preemie, and embark upon an intercontinental trek in search of a meaningful life. They move from Southern Rhodesia to Bahrain to England and finally to New Jersey, where Howard, a hapless engineer specializing in valves, finds himself unemployed. With two more mouths to feed-Julia has given birth to rambunctious twins—the end of their troubles is nowhere in sight. Rounding out the family is Julia’s ever-critical mother, Rose, a staunch defender of British colonialism who disapproves of their move to America. (“What else but lunatic theology could compel anyone to brave the Atlantic to start a new life in a wilderness with nothing to show for itself but the tomato and the turkey?”) The briskly paced narrative crackles with dry wit, and its abundant surprises will make you weep and guffaw in equal measure.


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