If Knausgaard is too cheery for you, then this is just your cup of lutefisk.


Of diplomacy and its discontents: an existentialist-tinged character study by acclaimed Norwegian novelist Solstad (Professor Andersen’s Night, 2012, etc.).

Armand V is a diplomat of some distinction, stationed in various European capitals as a representative of the government of Norway. His best moments, however, are experienced back home, where Solstad takes readers on occasional Joycean tours of the city: “And from this exquisite pearl Armand moved up the right side of Kirkeveien and into one of the most anonymous stretches of downtown Oslo. It is so anonymous that it takes a long time before you realize that’s exactly what it is.” An accidental diplomat—he sort of wants to be a writer, sort of wants to restructure the narrative of European history, sort of wants to do anything but pretend to be nice to Americans—Armand is quietly, indignantly opposed to his country’s military involvement in the Middle East: “If he felt a deep rage toward the United States, he never expressed it. If he had, the result would have been that he was honorably discharged from his position as the Norwegian envoy, and he would have then entered the ranks of retirees.” Naturally, his son rebels by joining the military and becoming an elite soldier, returning from Iraq badly wounded, which doesn’t help Armand’s mood. Were this a linear study in Dostoyevskian pessimism, Solstad’s tale would be a tad bit simpler to take in, but he complicates it by writing the whole thing as almost-too-meta footnotes to a book we're not seeing, with observations on, for instance, Armand’s wife’s twin sister, who doesn’t figure much in the narrative but who “has a unique place in the block of text presented here because she doesn’t belong to the premises for the footnotes but is seen exclusively in relation to the material that has actually been written down.” She’s there for a reason, in short, and it’s more than just to have an affair with Armand to liven the bleakness.

If Knausgaard is too cheery for you, then this is just your cup of lutefisk.

Pub Date: May 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2628-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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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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