A disturbing work that is deep but not inscrutable.


T.S. Eliot wrote, “The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter.” So is the killing of them.

Hrabal (Mr. Kafka: And Other Tales From the Time of the Cult, 2015, etc.) states at the outset of this memoir—set in 1983, 14 years before his death at 82—that he loved cats. At his cottage in Kersko, an hour’s drive from Prague, he and his wife would open the door each morning, and “five grown cats would come charging into the kitchen and lap up two full bowls of milk.” Then, “meshugge Stunde, this crazy hour” would begin: cats racing around the cottage, fighting over slippers, and so on. Hrabal loved “our children” so much that he’d dry their paws when they came in from the rain. But his wife often asked, “what are we going to do with all those cats?” The author had an upsetting answer: When two of them had five kittens apiece, he concluded that he had to “be the executioner” and control the population. So he lured six kittens into a mailbag, took it to the woods, and beat them to death. He feels this act was justified, yet those kittens “would haunt me like a bad conscience whenever I’d lie awake toward morning, unable to sleep.” The feelings these killings engendered led him to write this thoughtful, if sometimes-repetitive, essay on the nature of guilt. Was he not like soldiers who killed innocents during wartime? Isn’t killing just the nature of life, he argues, as when his two tabbies caught and tortured a bunny until it died of terror? This alternately sweet and gruesome memoir challenges readers to think about their own actions and their own vulnerability. Cats serve as a metaphor for the many forms of guilt each person carries and the challenges of rationalizing problematic behavior. Indeed, what is one to do with all those cats?

A disturbing work that is deep but not inscrutable.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2895-4

Page Count: 120

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: Sept. 11, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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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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