Like a lot of similar fiction, this well-crafted novel finds its protagonist suspended between two cultures, a part of each...


A boy searches for answers, home, his identity, and his destiny after mysterious family circumstances transplant him from his native Zanzibar to London.

A veteran novelist who was born in Zanzibar and has long been a professor of literature in England, Gurnah (The Last Gift, 2014, etc.) offers a first-person narrative involving rites of passage for a character whose circumstances are similar to his own. At a pivotal point the narrator says, “I felt like a character at the end of a novel on his way to adventure and fulfilment.” Not so fast, for the protagonist has barely made his way through a third of this tale, and fulfillment might not be a realistic expectation. What little he's learned about the world has come from reading novels, a passion he inherited from his father, who has abandoned the household in something resembling disgrace, with the son sent to England to study business under the patronage of his more worldly, glamorous uncle. “Something broke in my father’s life a long time ago and I was the debris of [my parents'] disordered lives,” says Salim, as he has belatedly introduced himself. The source of this disorder remains a mystery to Salim even after the birth of a sister whose father could not possibly be his. He angers his uncle by rejecting business for the study of literature and finds a measure of independence as he experiences a sexual awakening. Yet his mother’s death brings him back to a very different Zanzibar, post-revolutionary and now teeming with tourists. His father, who had been all but silent throughout his son’s narration, now feels himself compelled to illuminate the dark secrets that have split his family, and he does so through a series of chapters that function almost like soliloquies, letting Salim know what his mother did and why.

Like a lot of similar fiction, this well-crafted novel finds its protagonist suspended between two cultures, a part of each yet apart from both.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63286-813-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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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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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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