WHAT WE KEEP

The prolific Berg’s fifth novel (Joy School, 1997, etc.) pays an unremarkable visit to that overworked territory where mothers and daughters visit to blame and explain, this time in the story of a daughter on her way to meet the mother she hasn—t seen for 35 years. Berg has an easy style and good ear, which makes for agreeable storytelling, but, here, the story itself is less impressive. The trouble is that the plot fails to seem plausible or compelling, draining the emotion from what a supposedly dramatic meeting, with attendant explanatory revelations, of a mother and her two estranged daughters. The narrative is told in flashbacks younger daughter Ginny as she flies to San Francisco. There, she joins sister Sharla, who has persuaded Ginny to come along only by hinting that she’s terminally ill and wants to make her peace with their mother. As for Mother, she seems a parody of a 1950s Mom: baking from scratch, dressing immaculately, even hosting a Tupperware party. Dad’s also a stereotype—a well-meaning man who works hard at a boring job, but isn—t sensitive (he doesn’t get it, for instance, that his wife wants to go dancing). The two girls are happy, though: They love Mom’s cooking and the way she helps them create nifty projects. And yet one summer, when glamorous free spirit Jasmine, allegedly on the run from her rich but abusive husband, moves next door, their lives fall apart. Mom gets restless and decides to leave Dad and the girls to become an artist. Which she does, and isn—t forgiven until they all meet up again, realizing then just how unhappy Mom was. But why Mom had to make so extreme a gesture is never persuasively explained. An easy read, but intellectually and emotionally lite-fare, despite the suggestions of profundity (“I now believe we owe our mothers and our daughters the truth”). (Book-of-the- Month selection; author tour)

Pub Date: May 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-375-50099-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1998

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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