PIECES OF LIGHT

No less a savage indictment of rural English life than was its predecessor (ULVERTON, 1992), Thorpe’s newest epic is at once more personal and more profound as it details the mysteries and tragedies of a child born in Africa and transported to his uncle’s house in England for schooling. In his old age he discovers the mindbending truth about his past. Young Hugh Arkwright’s memories of interior Africa—where after WWI his father served as a minion of the British Empire in a rotting outpost squeezed between a dark river and a darker jungle—were memories anyone might have of home and a pleasant childhood. Only when packed off to creepy Uncle Edward’s cold stone manor, bereft of his parents and pining for the warmth and wonder of Africa as revealed to him by one of the native servants, does Hugh’s vision darken—and, literally, an eye already weakened by malarial fever fail him completely. After a few years of brutal public school, Edward’s peculiar pantheistic views are lightened only by his mother’s brief visits in summer, but then, just as he’s recovering one winter from a bout of pneumonia, he has dreadful news of her: she walked into the jungle and vanished. Much later Hugh, long a well-known director of classical theater, comes back as an old man to that house in the west of England, having inherited it following the death of Edward’s much younger wife. He finds in the attic a trunk that when he pries it open proves to be a Pandora’s box. From the institution where he’s been placed after his subsequent breakdown Hugh recounts, in a series of painful but therapy-related letters to his long-lost mother, the whole tawdry tale of his one love, the murder he was believed to have committed, and his shock at learning who he really is. Plot details don’t do this eerie, mood-laced saga justice, but driving the novel along with the central mystery, skillfully suspended, is as somber and compelling a view of folklore and folkways as has been seen in fiction in some time.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7867-0661-9

Page Count: 488

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1999

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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TRUE BETRAYALS

Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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