RESISTANCE, REBELLION, AND DEATH

ESSAYS

Biographically speaking, there is nothing as definitive concerning a man's life as the asides he speaks- to himself or while facing an audience. Letters and speeches written at the moment and not organized into a timeless work reveal more of a person's life and thought than any rote biography by an admirer. This is precisely what this book is. It does not explain Albert Camus. It reveals him. This is its first value. Here we find Camus' letters written during the war to a German friend, attempting to sift his love for his country despite its weaknesses and insanities. For himself and France Camus has tried to judge his own land and culture, to tap its vital bloodstream, discover its worth, and thus "absurdly" enter the larger family of mankind. For Americans, the book has an added value. Here is a man who speaks our own language, the traditional language of America in constant criticism of itself. And perhaps this explains the reading public's great affinity for this European. Finally the collected asides give us a greater insight into Camus' thinking. He details his war effort and distinguishes his support of killing from that of murdering. He etches his homeland, Algeria, attempting to preserve the familiar relationship of the past and the independence required of the present. Through his love of justice he exerts a forceful resistance against Christianity and Communism, though he respects both. Yet his passionate love of justice becomes quicksand and unveils his deep religious feeling. After all, as Camus says, "The only real artist then is God...all other artists are, ipso facto, unfaithful to reality". A statement in which he included himself. Certainly this is the most important book written about Camus, by one who knows best.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 1960

ISBN: 0679764011

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1960

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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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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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