ONCE UPON THE RIVER LOVE

A 1994 novel by the Russian-born author whose Dreams of My Russian Summers (written, as was this, in French) was rapturously reviewed when it appeared here in translation last year. The adolescence of three friends who grow up together in the village of Svetlaya in eastern Siberia is recalled by one of them: Dmitri, an ineffably romantic youth who will leave Svetlaya for the Leningrad College of Cinema. His boyhood companions are Samurai, a burly pragmatist who narrowly escaped sexual assault when he was ten and became thereafter “obsessed by strength,— and Utkin, a quiet boy crippled by a shifting ice floe on the nearby Amur River, the name of which evokes that of the Roman god of love, and which accordingly looms, symbolically as well as literally, as a powerful sensual presence surrounding the friends. For this is a novel drenched in sensuality: Dmitri’s initiation by a “red-haired prostitute” in a neighboring town haunts his tentative approach toward manhood and independence, just as the glamour of “the Western World” beckons the three comrades, who travel many miles on skis to the Red October Theatre for repeated viewings of movies starring their idol Jean-Paul Belmondo (“He embodied this whole complex repertoire of adventures, colors, passionate embraces, roars, leaps, kisses, breaking waves, musky scents, brushes with death”). If some elements of the story—such as the presence of an old woman named Olga who tells stories of her youth decades before in Paris—too closely recall Dreams of My Russian Summers, it is nevertheless notable for its deeply understanding portrayal of youth as a time of herculean hungers and unlimited possibilities, and for a rich profusion of arresting images: the Trans-Siberian Express swiftly passing through Svetlaya; the body of a man found frozen in the crotch of a tree; the imprints of two naked bodies preserved in the snow. Marginally less wonderful than Dreams, but that’s quibbling. Let’s have Makine’s other fiction in English as soon as possible, please.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1998

ISBN: 1-55970-438-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1998

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IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

This new Baldwin novel is told by a 19-year-old black girl named Tish in a New York City ghetto about how she fell in love with a young black man, Fonny. He got framed on a rape charge and she got pregnant before they could marry and move into their loft; but Tish and her family Finance a trip to Puerto Rico to track down the rape victim and rescue Fonny, a sculptor with slanted eyes and treasured independence. The book is anomalous for the 1970's with its Raisin in the Sun wholesomeness. It is sometimes saccharine, but it possesses a genuinely sweet and free spirit too. Along with the reflex sprinkles of hate-whitey, there are powerful showdowns between the two black families, and a Frieze of people who — unlike Fonny's father — gave up and "congregated on the garbage heaps of their lives." The style wobbles as Tish mixes street talk with lyricism and polemic and a bogus kind of Young Adult hesitancy. Baldwin slips past the conflict between fighting the garbage heap and settling into a long-gone private chianti-chisel-and-garret idyll, as do Fonny and Tish and the baby. But Baldwin makes the affirmation of the humanity of black people which is all too missing in various kinds of Superfly and sub-fly novels.

Pub Date: May 24, 1974

ISBN: 0307275930

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1974

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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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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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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