On balance, skillful work that should appeal to lovers of mystical literature—including Maxine Hong Kingston’s Warrior Woman.

SHADOW THEATRE

Modern-day Singapore becomes a whispering thicket of ghosts and gossip in a mysterious though in some ways unsatisfying tale.

Perhaps as a defense against possible criticism of Shadow Theatre’s multilayered voices and personalities, Cheong (The Scent of the Gods, 1991), a teacher at the University of Pittsburgh, makes one of her main characters a novelist whose American publisher is troubled by her latest book’s multiple voices: “Don’t Americans know how to pay attention to several people talking at one time? They should come sit at a dinner table over here.” The story is set in a tightly connected Singapore neighborhood that’s full to bursting with history and yet is slowly being subsumed by spiritless modernity. Tongues start wagging when local girl Shakilah Nair, the novelist, returns after many years in America, pregnant and with a scandalously bare left hand. But for all the noise about Shakilah’s condition, it is hardly the most notable of things going on: philandering, murder, and abuse, for example, not to mention the ghosts that seem to lurk behind every bush and the stories of vampires and local shamans. Cheong approaches her tale from all angles and by means of many different narrators, including servants, tongue-clucking gossips, and teenaged girls eager for exploration and discovery. All is conveyed in Cheong’s musical take on Singapore language, a sing-songy rhythm that from the first page pleasantly engulfs the reader amid a luscious blend of cultures and languages—Chinese, Malaysian, Indian, Catholic, Muslim, animist—that further makes for a seductive setting. If only it were easier to clarify what is taking place: it isn’t the many narrators that muddy the narrative, it’s Cheong’s restless jumping around and her coy way with facts—flaws that don’t make for an unpleasant experience, merely an occasionally frustrating one.

On balance, skillful work that should appeal to lovers of mystical literature—including Maxine Hong Kingston’s Warrior Woman.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-56947-287-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2002

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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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