Pretentious and overwrought.

THE FLOATING WORLD

American coed abandons her “too-safe life” at Princeton to study dance and decadence in Tokyo.

Any book that opens with the image of a woman “laid out like a sacrifice on a long, low-to-the ground dining table, her naked body littered with sushi” clearly intends to shock, and Gralla’s debut tale revels throughout in extreme behavior. Narrator Liza comes to Japan to study butoh, “the dance of utter darkness,” because it seems “the one thing that might be outrageous enough to save me.” She gets a job at a hostess club, luring salarymen to buy overpriced drinks, and acquires a lover who declares, “I will chain you naked to the stone steps on my tower and torture you in the most intimate part of yourself.” Fellow hostess Maboroshi invites Liza to join a band of maiko, apprentice geishas who wear the traditional kimonos as they maraud through the Tokyo streets at night. It was Maboroshi on the table in the first scene, and soon Liza too is a live serving platter, though she herself has stopped eating. When her American boyfriend turns up, Liza bops him over the head with a vase, lets the maiko cut her arms with glass and watches them kill a club patron, then passes out at her butoh group’s dress rehearsal. It’s all supposedly very significant, with Liza pontificating about becoming a commodity, wondering which is her authentic self, and slathering on the floating metaphors. (The phrase “floating world” describes the walled quarters inhabited by geisha.) Hardly any of it is believable except the authentically detailed hostess club scenes (the author worked at one) and some interesting interpolations about butoh’s origins in the Tokyo student riots of 1959. Otherwise, the lurid developments seem merely the result of feverish invention, and Liza’s banal philosophizing (“my messier bodily fluids were blotted out by the paper-thin origami of my soul”) just irritating.

Pretentious and overwrought.

Pub Date: March 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-345-45291-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2002

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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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