Cohen’s first novel (Red Hook, 2001) was an exceptionally well-done police procedural. Readers may find this a mixed bag,...

BOOMBOX

A beautifully written, thoroughly depressing novel about the racial divide.

Boerum Hill is a Brooklyn neighborhood in transition—gentrification having its dislocating, often painful way with the harried residents. Until recently uniformly black, it’s now mostly white, and while the neighborhood is outwardly peaceful, there is very little about it to suggest a community. True, Carol Fasone (white) and Grace Howard (black) do a bit of visiting back and forth, but it’s a cautious, circumspect relationship, flourishing far less than the gardens both are so good at growing. On Boerum Hill, everyone seems to stay at arms-length. And then young Jamel Wilson gets his new sound system: “four mighty speaker cabinets…SuperDJ 400-watt power amplifier.” A boombox to be reckoned with, a boombox to do justice to the gangsta rap that Jamel adores. Suddenly the white residents of Boerum Hill are plunged into “BPW (Black People’s World),” and they don’t like it. It alienates them. Perhaps—when the box is at full boom, which, to Jamel, is standard operating procedure—it secretly terrifies them. The one thing it does for certain is rally them. Organized, they go down to the local police station, where they encounter a surprisingly sympathetic African-American sergeant who recently endured a similar situation with his own neighbors—Russian music lovers. The sergeant is sympathetic but powerless. Jamel mutes the sound when the cops order him to, ratchets it back up the moment they’re gone. The conflict deepens. Both sides feel aggrieved.

Cohen’s first novel (Red Hook, 2001) was an exceptionally well-done police procedural. Readers may find this a mixed bag, however: a rich, inviting prose style coupled with a relentlessly gloomy worldview.

Pub Date: July 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-89733-558-4

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Academy Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

This new Baldwin novel is told by a 19-year-old black girl named Tish in a New York City ghetto about how she fell in love with a young black man, Fonny. He got framed on a rape charge and she got pregnant before they could marry and move into their loft; but Tish and her family Finance a trip to Puerto Rico to track down the rape victim and rescue Fonny, a sculptor with slanted eyes and treasured independence. The book is anomalous for the 1970's with its Raisin in the Sun wholesomeness. It is sometimes saccharine, but it possesses a genuinely sweet and free spirit too. Along with the reflex sprinkles of hate-whitey, there are powerful showdowns between the two black families, and a Frieze of people who — unlike Fonny's father — gave up and "congregated on the garbage heaps of their lives." The style wobbles as Tish mixes street talk with lyricism and polemic and a bogus kind of Young Adult hesitancy. Baldwin slips past the conflict between fighting the garbage heap and settling into a long-gone private chianti-chisel-and-garret idyll, as do Fonny and Tish and the baby. But Baldwin makes the affirmation of the humanity of black people which is all too missing in various kinds of Superfly and sub-fly novels.

Pub Date: May 24, 1974

ISBN: 0307275930

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1974

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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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