A compelling portrait of an unfamiliar place on the cusp of modernity: a promising new writer.


Debut fiction describing the bloodstained last days of Tibetan chieftains before the Chinese communists took over their lands in 1949.

The tale is set in the Tibetan borderlands during the first half of the 20th century. Now part of Sichuan, the region was then ruled by powerful chieftains who lived like medieval barons. The son of one of them, Chieftain Maiqi, narrates. Commonly perceived to be an idiot because he doesn’t talk much and often looks vacant-eyed, the unnamed narrator is anything but stupid—indeed, the device of having people constantly call him “idiot” ultimately grows strained. Recalling his pampered childhood with slaves in attendance, a Buddhist lama and family historian on call, he details a brutal, colorful world. Each chieftain has an executioner, numerous concubines, and a standing army. There are no cars or electricity, the medicine is traditional and the customs antique. But the years bring dire changes. Chieftain Maiqi becomes extremely rich and powerful when a Chinese official orders him to grow opium; envious of his profits, fellow chieftains steal seeds and plant their own lands entirely with red poppies, but they starve when a bad winter ensues. Only Chieftain Maiqi has planted grain, heeding the advice of his now-teenaged son and saving his people. Respected more as he grows older, the narrator also warns his father and elder brother that they are stalked by assassins bent on avenging the death of kin executed by the chieftain. As the outside world intrudes and the Red army takes over, he ruefully recalls the historian who once told him “history means learning about today and tomorrow from yesterday.” The author, himself an ethnic Tibetan who lives in Sichuan, eschews conventional chronology and epic sweep in favor of an episodic, lyric, and low-key narrative

A compelling portrait of an unfamiliar place on the cusp of modernity: a promising new writer.

Pub Date: March 6, 2002

ISBN: 0-618-11964-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2002

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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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