Van Heerden offers a lyrical but underpowered interpretation of his country’s history as a young woman visits an isolated village that’s trapped in the past.

Relying on allegory and a labored magic realism, van Heerden (Ancestral Voices, 1992) tells a story both of the old South Africa and the new one, vital and optimistic about the future. Among the characters in the village of Yearsonend are ghostly ones from the past like Captain Gird, an English painter of South African wildlife in the early 19th century; his bushman guide, Slingshot X!am; the gold-obsessed General Taljaard, who has fought in all his country’s wars; and Granny Siela Pedi, who, after capture by Boer soldiers, fell in love with their leader, Field Cornet Pistorius. The flesh and blood inhabitants include a mute and blind Italian stonecutter, Mario Salviati, who came to the village during WWII; Jonty Jack Bergh, a sculptor; and Ingi Friedlander, a museum curator who is the daughter of Jews fleeing the Holocaust. Ingi has come to Yearsonend to persuade Jonty Jack to sell to her museum his famous statue, the Staggering Merman. Meanwhile, the villagers, spinners of myths and old tales, dream obsessively of finding the gold that Field Cornet Pistorius and the ostrich-feather Magnate Meerlust Bergh buried in 1902. Jonty’s father, Big Karel, who disappeared when his plan to bring water over the mountain seemed to have failed, may have discovered the gold and entrusted the knowledge to Salviati. As Ingi visits haunted houses like the Feather Palace, where Jonty’s mixed-race grandparents Meerlust and Indonesian Irene once lived, she befriends the aging Salviati, talks art with Jonty, and prepares to leave empty-handed. But first she watches the town’s gold mania reach fever pitch as Jonty blasts open a mountain cave where he believes father’s body lies and where the villagers believe the gold is hidden: a cathartic action that finally cuts the crippling ties to the past.

Ambitious but diffuse.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-052973-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2002

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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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