“Is there anything more heartbreaking than drowning in sight of land?” asks our narrator—and we know the answer. An elegant...

WE, THE DROWNED

A bestselling Danish novel, by journalist and foreign correspondent Jensen, that chronicles the long-suffering inhabitants of a port city over the course of a century.

Call him Laurids, one of the two kinds of people who populate Jensen’s Homeric catalogue: the drowned and the saved, the latter of whom usually wind up drowned anyway. Laurids Madsden “went up to Heaven and came down again, thanks to his boots,” as Jensen whimsically writes—though, he adds, Laurids never got farther north than the top of his main mast before death spat him back out. Laurids is a veteran of wars and long circumnavigations of the globe, and, now a captain in middle age, childless and unmarried, he faces the difficult task of figuring out how to move about on the dry land of his home. Says one of his neighbors, “You call Marstal a sailors' town, but do you know what I call it? I call it a town of wives. It’s the women who live here. The men are just visiting.” Those women, Jensen’s omniscient narrator tells us, “live in a state of permanent uncertainty,” for those men are in the habit of disappearing for two or three years at a time and battling very long odds of survival, to say nothing of heavily armed Germans. Hope is either a greening plant or an open wound, the narrator adds, and so the people of Marstal go about their business not quite knowing who among them is living or dead. Jensen (I Have Seen the World Begin: Travels Through China, Cambodia, and Vietnam, 2002, etc.) peoples his long, expertly told saga with figures from Danish history as well as of his own invention, from Crown Prince Frederik to a ship’s captain who “remained equally pale in summer and winter, in northern hemisphere and southern,” and all with the usual frailties and foibles. Jensen is a sympathetic storyteller with an eye for the absurd, with the result that if this novel descends from Moby-Dick, it also looks to The Tin Drum for inspiration.

“Is there anything more heartbreaking than drowning in sight of land?” asks our narrator—and we know the answer. An elegant meditation on life, death and the ways of the sea.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-15-101377-7

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2010

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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