Like the song says, you can’t always get what you want.


Ah, love: if it didn’t end badly, it wouldn’t end at all, especially for two star-crossed lovers in modern-day Puerto Rico.

This prizewinning novel is the best-known work by Lalo and his first to arrive in translation. It’s a bleak but emotionally resonant work that finds weighty things to say about writing, culture, Puerto Rican identity, and the dangers of projecting one’s desire upon another. The unnamed novelist who narrates the tale is a dour, nihilistic creature who is deeply unhappy with his life teaching at a local university. “The world of the future (the future?): people wandering through the streets, the plaza, the highways, the stages of life, without understanding any of it,” reads one of his sunny musings. Life throws him a curve when a young Chinese émigré becomes infatuated with his novels and starts leaving him arcane notes, obscure quotes, and murky clues, modeling her persona on the late French philosopher Simone Weil. Upon meeting the real thing, a self-educated waitress named Li Chao, the mismatched lovers discover an intense attraction that's doomed by his expectations and her psychic scars. “You don’t realize you’re looking at an anonymous work,” she says. “Li Chao doesn’t exist. She’s just one Chinese woman from among 1,300,000,000 Chinese, not counting those who’ve emigrated and are living overseas, and from among 4,000,000 Puerto Ricans who don’t even look at themselves. A lesbian who took to using the words of others to pursue a writer whose failure is eating away at him today.” This is a very eerie bit of fiction which is erotic without being romantic, psychically raw without collapsing into ennui, and linguistically expressive while using characters that live and breathe and cry right on the page. There are missteps here and there—the narrator’s distaste for Spanish fiction borders on xenophobia—but the book’s human hearts ring true in the end.

Like the song says, you can’t always get what you want.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-226-20748-3

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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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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