At once sad and fascinating: fine sketches of an interesting subject.


Moving through the same territory as Polonaise (1999), Bukoski’s fourth collection sets 13 stories in the Polish and Slavic neighborhoods of Superior, Wisconsin.

The author mines a rich vein of American society that has received much less literary attention than it deserves, walking us through the old blue-collar neighborhoods where the VFW halls are named after Thaddeus Kosciuszko (Polish hero of the American Revolution, in case you didn’t know) and polkas far outnumber Sinatra on any jukebox in town. Stolid, hardworking, conservative, and somewhat clannish, the Catholic Slavs of Bukoski’s stories are even more unpretentious than the Lutheran Swedes of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woebegone—although they can raise a lot more hell at a party. The outsiders in their midst, like Joe Rubin, the Jewish railway track inspector of the title story, tend to be more solitary than most, but people here are rather lonely in general and observe the world around them with a mixture of cynicism and resignation. The parish priest who narrates “Winter Weeds,” for example, has to endure the private torment of learning in the confessional that a woman he is secretly obsessed with has taken a lover, while the Marine corporal of “A Geography of Snow” seems to take pleasure in bragging while drunk that he is nothing more than a company cook who got his Purple Heart as the result of a truck accident. The author succeeds in portraying the overwhelming smallness of this world and its dependence upon familiar routines: the parish church that provides an entire social life for the old lady in “Holy Walker,” or the accordion gigs that bring some variety (as well as an occasional fling) into the settled life of mill worker Buck Mrozek in “Closing Time.” Ranging from the 1940s to the present day, Bukoski’s tales also serve as a record of a slowly fading world.

At once sad and fascinating: fine sketches of an interesting subject.

Pub Date: July 31, 2003

ISBN: 0-87074-479-8

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Southern Methodist Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2003

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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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