Nair's prose can tend to the purple; her strength lies in gentle, keenly observed comedy rather than tearful melodrama....

THE BETTER MAN

A tone of wistful melancholy and incidents both droll and poignant characterize this first novel of Indian village life, a story reminiscent of the works of R.K. Narayan.

When Mukundan returns after a 40-year absence to the village of Kaikurussi, it is not with any sense of renewal. His childhood home contains terrible memories of Mukundan’s bullying father (still alive), and he’s convinced that the ghost of his brutalized mother, dead many years, haunts the place. Mukundan may be a bachelor nearing 60, but he is as timid as a child. When he hires a local man, One-Screw-Loose Bhasi, to help him restore his house, they form a close friendship. Bhasi, a teacher and healer as well as a painter, helps Mukundan exorcise the ghosts—literal and figurative—of his childhood. Mukundan also begins an impassioned affair with an unhappily married woman, Anjana. Both relationships are put to the test when the village elite pressure Mukundan to intercede in a land dispute. The corrupt local bigwig, Power House Ramakrishnan, wants to buy Bhasi's house and land, but the painter refuses to sell. To his eventual shame, Mukundan, seduced by promises of higher standing within the community, talks Bhasi into selling. And because he fears village censure if his affair comes to light, he tries to wriggle out of his relationship with Anjana. He regains his dignity by story’s end, however, and takes the unprecedented step of defying village opinion with one climactic gesture.

Nair's prose can tend to the purple; her strength lies in gentle, keenly observed comedy rather than tearful melodrama. Overall, a warmly affecting novel whose depiction of small-town life strikes a universal chord.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-312-25311-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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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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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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