Early work from a writer who merits a larger readership.


A collection of formative fiction from a writer whose work has earned comparison with Joyce and Beckett.

Beyond Central Europe, Hrabal might best be known for Closely Watched Trains (1965), his novel adapted into a movie which won an Oscar for best foreign film in 1968. This collection’s “Cain,” subtitled “An Existentialist Short Story,” offers an earlier version of that tale in the first-person account of a man who says he's “leaving on a quest for simple human happiness, to harmonise [his] life to [his] thoughts”; he finds his life and identity jumbled by a train trip that presents complications he had never anticipated, with hospitalization and pregnancy among the consequences. The cornerstone of the book might well be “The Sufferings of Old Werther,” which at 84 pages is easily the longest piece, written in a first-person stream of consciousness that combines various narrative strands, jumping from one to another and then back again, in a manner reminiscent of Finnegans Wake. The translator's notes say that this is the first of Hrabal's pieces to draw inspiration from his uncle, who is credited as collaborator on the subsequent “Protocol” and to whom “A Schizophrenic Gospel” is dedicated. Many of the stories employ second-person narration, addressing the reader as “you,” instead of the more common first- or third-person perspectives, and most often the prose is dense, without conventional paragraphing or punctuation, with sentences flowing over pages. The tone throughout is dark comedy, exploring human absurdity and carnality amid a universe that is at best senseless, if not malevolent. “You insist the world can be perfect only in its totality,” says one character, “meaning that good and evil are both necessary, otherwise it would come crashing down.”

Early work from a writer who merits a larger readership.

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-80-246-4268-0

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Karolinum Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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