A lyrical, antic, sometimes-plodding embodiment of the complications of self and nationhood.



A man returns to his native Lebanon—and a long history of personal and cultural turmoil—in this panoramic novel.

Arguably Lebanon’s leading literary figure (Yalo, 2008, etc.), Khoury centers this novel on Karim, a dermatologist who’s been enmeshed in the nation’s shifting fortunes throughout the second half of the 20th century. It’s 1989, and he’s been asked by his brother, Nasim, to help start a hospital in Beirut. Karim has lived in a self-imposed exile for years in France with his wife and children, and he’s disinclined to go back, for reasons both political (a distaste for the extremist and sectarian rebels he’d interacted with) and personal (Nasim married his ex-girlfriend, for starters). Karim and Nasim have distinct personalities—upon his return, Karim muses on his various affairs, while Nasim recalls his ineptitude in various pursuits, from college to drug dealing. But Khoury plainly intends them to be archetypes of Lebanon’s struggles to define itself after years (indeed, centuries) of religious sectarianism and civil war. Their father thinks of them as twins (though they were born just less than a year apart), and they serve as mirror images of each other, to pick a metaphor Khoury returns to often. The civil war, for instance, is “an assemblage of broken mirrors…images that reproduce each other but refuse to form a coherent whole.” Khoury fragments the narrative in a similar fashion, sending Karim backward and forward in time to contemplate his childhood, his romantic relationships, religious leaders, and general sense of feeling trapped by the country’s past. These shards of memory aren’t a mess, exactly—Khoury’s prose, via Davies’ translation, is clean and plainspoken—but the time shifting and historical detail often leave the reader feeling whipsawed. (A helpful glossary of significant historical and cultural references is appended.)

A lyrical, antic, sometimes-plodding embodiment of the complications of self and nationhood.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-914671-29-9

Page Count: 500

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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