A winning, offbeat yarn about life and love after communism.

GOULASH

A young American expatriate struggles to find his footing in late-1990s Prague, which is having a hard time getting its own act together.

Kimberling’s (Snapper, 2013) second book is a comic novel, and the butt of the joke is usually Elliott, who arrives in the Czech capital from Indiana (“the South’s middle finger”) to teach English but is mostly disoriented by its absurd status following the Iron Curtain’s collapse. Elliott’s students allegedly want to claim some of capitalism’s bounty but are mainly interested in learning English slang and mocking Americans’ Cold War behavior. (“Either you had a low opinion of our bombs or a high opinion of your desks,” one student tells Elliott in response to nuclear-bomb duck-and-cover drills.) Elliott is motivated to mature (somewhat) with the arrival of Amanda, a British ESL teacher he quickly falls for. Their romance runs at a low boil—after all, everything feels temporary in the city—but their travels through the new Czech Republic are entertaining, characterized by light irony or black comedy: A performance of Don Giovanni that “might as well have been mounted by toddlers”; the Church of Bones, where “beer cans, candy wrappers, and spent Marlboros” mix with “pelvises, coccyges, patellae, and skulls”; a cozy hotel where they spend the night that turns out to be a brothel. Kimberling has a rich store of peculiar tales to share, from a penguin smuggler to a mansion whose fireplace mantle “could have slept a family of five comfortably.” The novel’s episodic structure and laugh lines diminish the impact of Elliott’s more sour reckonings toward the end, but Kimberling’s deadpan wit and powers of observation amply compensate.

A winning, offbeat yarn about life and love after communism.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-307-90807-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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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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