THE TRENCH

VOL. II OF CITIES OF SALT

The American ``liberation'' of Kuwait adds unexpected timeliness to the second volume of Munif's stately, satirical Cities of Salt trilogy (1987), which picks up the story of the Middle Eastern sultanate of Mooran in the 1950's, as the corrupting effects of oil, greed, and American values reach epidemic proportions. Munif cannily keeps both oil and Americans offstage, focusing instead on the petty conflicts and intrigues swirling through the reign of Sultan Khazael, and especially on the incessant plotting of Machiavellian Dr. Subhi Mahmilji, the young sultan's chief advisor, who has the authority to establish and direct Hammad al-Mutawa as head of the secret police—but whose power is subtly challenged by his wife Widad, who dreams of every man in the sultanate but him; by his assistant Muhammed Eid, who wants to marry his golden-haired daughter Salma; by his son Ghazwan, whose trip to the US infects him with the decline of the West; and by innumerable rivals in and out of court. Mooran's inexorable slide toward capitalism (Munif's title refers both to shifting seismic foundations and to holes people can fall into) is presented in tiny, apparently inconsequential episodes, from business deals—an automobile franchise provides a particularly riotous interlude—to family quarrels; and Munif, who seems to love his scheming principals as much as Jean Renoir loved his doomed aristocrats in Rules of the Game, stays so close to their plans, fears, and desires that their tragic absurdity remains hidden for a long time—until the inevitable peremptory reaction against the sultan's regime. Munif's satire, in fact, may be entirely too subtle for American readers. But this sly, patient dissection of a sultanate grown too rich for its own survival makes it clear why the author lost his own Saudi citizenship.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1991

ISBN: 0-394-57672-1

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1991

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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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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