Evocative exploration of how deception can destroy—or redeem—a family.


An eccentric Spanish family retreats to their beach house outside Barcelona to make final arrangements for the matriarch presumed dead after a boat accident in Guatemala.

“Me, Isabel, dead? Not a chance,” declares the feisty, clear-eyed, 69-year-old on page one. An influential anthropologist specializing in the funeral rites of indigenous people, she was on a solo trip to a remote river in Central America when a European nurse she met in passing was killed in a river accident. The woman’s disfigured body was misidentified as that of Isabel, who for a number of reasons decides to stay out of sight for a little while, writing down her thoughts in a journal. Her distraught family, meanwhile, grieves for her while facing their own various issues as they make plans to dispose of “Isabel’s” ashes near the ruggedly beautiful town of Malespina. Her husband, Julio, suffers from a Parkinson’s-like ailment and needs constant care. Eldest son Alberto is a successful, four-times divorced lawyer stressed by financial and personal responsibilities. Middle son Pablo is a gifted composer who never lived up to his early promise. Youngest child Serena, a meteorologist, finds herself pregnant at age 38 by a 24-year-old colleague. Serena’s written account forms a counterpart to her mother’s diary, and the two texts slowly knit together a convoluted tale of origins beginning with the legend of Julio’s father, Simón, a shipwreck survivor who may never have existed. Layer after layer of family lore are peeled away in the competing narratives, interspersed with tangential tales from Isabel’s work with native tribes and Serena’s research on maritime weather patterns. It all makes for an original, though sometimes confusing, take on the nature of storytelling, truth and familial bonds. An award-winning release in de Hériz’s native Spain, his American debut is blessed with fully fashioned characters who manage to be satisfyingly exasperating and complex.

Evocative exploration of how deception can destroy—or redeem—a family.

Pub Date: April 17, 2007

ISBN: 0-385-51794-7

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2007

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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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