An amiably diverting account of domestic chaos, but nothing more.


The last of a trilogy (Portofino, 1992; Saving Grandma, 1997), this set in 1966, about the mixed-up childhood of Calvin Becker, whose parents were missionaries working to save the Swiss.

At 14, Calvin Becker has more to get over than most preachers’ children: His father Ralph isn’t just a preacher, but a missionary—and in one of the most inhospitable corners of the entire globe: Switzerland. Reformed Presbyterians of the strictest hue, the Beckers consider Lutherans to be only slightly better than Catholics, and they’ve spent more than a decade in the Alpine wastes trying to save them both. It’s not the easiest place to save souls, and Ralph would frankly have preferred to preach to the Hottentots or Zulus, who have been known to convert en masse, but his wife Elsa is the daughter of the mission board director, and this may have been the reason behind their assignment to the tepid but temperate northern climes. As both the baby of the family and the only boy, Calvin is very much under the domination of his mother and two sisters, but he’s starting to chomp at the bit somewhat in an early-adolescent kind of way. Last summer on vacation, he let an English girl kiss him once, and this year he’s taking lessons from Eva, the hotel maid, who brings him breakfast in bed and performs un petit service at the same time. It’s a crisis in the making, of course, but just as Calvin’s corruption is about to be discovered, he’s saved by his father—who at precisely the right moment suffers a nervous breakdown and renounces his faith.This takes the pressure off Calvin, but it creates a dilemma for him as well: How can you rebel against a rebel? Calvin has to find a way of converting his father so that life can get back to normal. Sort of.

An amiably diverting account of domestic chaos, but nothing more.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-7867-1259-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2003

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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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