One suspects that Chaudhuri emptied his filing cabinet to fill this slim volume. Nevertheless, he’s a minor master, at the...



A stylish if rather slight miscellany of 15 stories and a verse memoir, by the accomplished Indian author (A New World, 2000; Freedom Song, 1999).

The stories are set mostly in Calcutta or Bombay and frequently turn on contrasts or conflicts generated by religious (Hindu-Muslim) or linguistic (Bengali-English) differences. For example, there are several seemingly autobiographical pieces, like “Portrait of an Artist,” in which a 16-year-old poet learns poetic tradition from a melancholy English tutor; and “Four Days Before the Saturday Night Social,” about a schoolboy’s approach to “the echoing, fantastic-hued chambers of rock music.” Little happens in Chaudhuri’s otherwise exquisitely fashioned fiction: witness “The Great Game,” a vignette that employs the phenomenon of soccer combat to underscore tensions between India and Pakistan; or an exceedingly thin few pages about a housewife’s decision to write her inglorious “memoirs”; or even “An Infatuation” and “The Wedding,” of tales from India’s classical epic The Mahabharata. More substantial stories include “The Man from Khurda District,” about a struggling domestic’s ill-fated befriending of a phlegmatic bicycle thief; and especially “White Lies,” a beautifully controlled piece about the addled relations among a “guru” who gives singing lessons to wealthy matrons, a “student” who hangs on his every note, and her increasingly impatient and frustrated husband. Elsewhere, mood and tone are more important than narrative, though evidence abounds of Chaudhuri’s remarkable gift for verbal precision and nuance (e.g., old friends meeting after a 20-year separation find themselves “reminiscing about our childhood as if it were a book we’d both recently read”). The author’s fluency is particularly well-displayed in the concluding “E-Minor,” whose 25-plus pages of graceful free verse vividly evoke their narrator’s Bombay childhood, conflicted family life and varied education, experiences in England and back home in India, and accession to marriage, fatherhood, and artistic maturity.

One suspects that Chaudhuri emptied his filing cabinet to fill this slim volume. Nevertheless, he’s a minor master, at the very least.

Pub Date: April 30, 2002

ISBN: 0-374-28169-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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