A sterile account of parallel lives.


This so-called mathematical novel from the Chinese-American poet and novelist (A Chinaman's Chance, 2011, etc.) is meta-fiction that tracks two linked characters.

Call them alter egos, call them doppelgängers, or simply call them by their names: G and Ge. G is a Chinese-American man in the U.S.; Ge is a Chinese woman in mainland China. Both are pursuing careers involving finite numbers. How many degrees separate them is a question best left to mathematicians. The key point is that neither cuts the umbilical cord to their creator, or knows the joy of autonomy. When we meet them in 1968, they are young teachers. G is at a small state university in Oshkosh, Wis.; Ge is also a university teacher, changing cities to avoid the state-sanctioned Red Guards, destructive hooligans still in their teens. Ferment in China, ferment in America. G is approached by the Black Student Union; he agrees to be their faculty advisor. There is a brief disturbance in the President’s office; over 100 students are arrested. The last straw comes for G when his department supports the administration; he quits teaching the same time Ge quits, strangers acting in concert. G moves to Pittsburgh to work for Westinghouse, while Ge’s hired by a state planning office, her focus is sedimentation caused by the Three Gorges Project. Dams in China, dams in America, as seen by two mathematicians with a shared social conscience. Ge concludes Three Gorges represents “vanity and greed”; G obsesses about the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington, “that has turned the environment…to shit.” The mathematical novel merges with the hydrodynamics novel. There is no plot, but there is a point of view, a humanist aversion to the arrogance of power, whether implemented by corporations or the state. The meta-fictional quirks, when the veil separating author and reader disappears, don’t amount to much. The novel ends with G and Ge working on papers with identical titles for an international conference on numbers.

A sterile account of parallel lives. 

Pub Date: June 16, 2011

ISBN: 978-988-19195-6-4

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Haven Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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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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