Affecting characters and dramatic storytelling overcome an occasionally argot-laden plot.

1918

A U.S. physician with a specialty in infectious diseases fights against the 1918 influenza pandemic in Cornish’s debut work of historical fiction.

Maj. Edward Noble, overseeing American soldiers during “The War,” is ordered back to Boston to ensure diseases don’t continue to spike the mortality rate. He soon learns of the high death rate from influenza, which only increases when the virus crops up in other countries and then returns to the States as a much deadlier strain. Dwindling hospital staff and medical supplies are just part of Noble’s troubles. Warning the public of a pandemic isn’t easy when certain powerful people refuse to accept that influenza is a disease. Cornish’s novel has surprisingly few characters considering its scope; it clocks in at more than 750 pages. But keeping the cast manageable proves to be a great asset; it still shows the flu’s reach while concentrating on the sympathetic Noble; his wife, Lilly; and their five children. The doctor faces plenty of obstacles professionally—alerting people about the virus incites the surgeon general, who asserts that influenza is not a concern—as well as at home, where none of his loved ones are immune to the disease. Supporting characters shine, including Col. Victor Vaughn, a good friend to Noble’s late father; Akeema, the nanny treated as family; and Cmdr. Richard Cunard, Noble’s nemesis since Lilly chose Noble instead of him back at Boston University. Cornish loads his story with medical jargon. Most of it can be deciphered via context, like “roentgenograms,” which are X-ray photographs. But the surplus of terminology can be a deterrent: The dramatic punch of caring for a sickly family member is softened by cold clinical descriptions, both in the dialogue between Noble and Lilly and in the repetition and recording of vital signs (pulse, blood pressure, etc.). Regardless, Noble is an appealing, knowledgeable focal point in this fictionalized rendering of the great influenza pandemic.

Affecting characters and dramatic storytelling overcome an occasionally argot-laden plot.

Pub Date: June 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-1482687156

Page Count: 774

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2014

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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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