Well-written—though elusive—literary travel through interior country: Jensen’s US debut is a cut above the usual slide-show...



A thoughtful, if at times ponderous, passage through blood-soaked terrain.

Danish journalist and novelist Jensen has a sense of humor befitting a countryman of Kierkegaard; he scarcely cracks a smile as he moves among the paradoxical cities and cultures of Southeast Asia, save when a “famous professor of medicine who had once operated on a government minister let rip a resounding fart.” Grimly noting the overcrowded streets of Shanghai, the impoverished villagers of Lijiang, the orphans of Phnom Penh, he philosophizes and strikes dark moods (“. . . this metaphysical weariness that seemed to strike at the very will to live”). His penchant for melancholia, coupled with the fact that his travels rarely take him beyond the officially approved tourist circuit, would all make for very tiresome reading were Jensen not so blessedly smart; wherever he goes, he is able to join a deep well of bookish knowledge to a penetrating eye for telling details. He observes, for example, that the ferocity and viciousness of the Khmer Rouge’s destruction of Cambodia sprang from the unformed morality of the revolution’s young perpetrators, many not yet teenagers; he marvels at the existence of apparently insurmountable boundaries of class in a supposedly classless China; he weeps on reading the words of an American soldier begging forgiveness of the Vietnamese people decades after fighting there. Throughout, he revels in the uncomfortable tradition of the European existentialist intellectual: “As a traveler, you are a nobody in the eyes of others. And in your own eyes: the accused. . . . Perhaps I was making this journey to store up future memories; in order, later, to yearn for the peacefulness of those foreign landscapes which I was far too anxious and breathless to take in while I was actually looking at them, and which only became real once they receded into the distance.”

Well-written—though elusive—literary travel through interior country: Jensen’s US debut is a cut above the usual slide-show travelogue.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-15-100768-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2002

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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