In all, a wrenching tale exploring similar Korean-American identity as Nora Okja Keller’s Fox Girl (2001).

THE BOOK OF DEAD BIRDS

Korean folklore and ornithology figure in the lives of a former GI prostitute and her black fatherless daughter in an earnest, sad-funny debut, winner of Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize.

At 25, Ava Sing Lo lives with her mother, Omma, in San Diego, has a music degree, and feels crushing guilt about her ancestry. She also has an unfortunate history of accidentally killing her mother’s beloved birds. Wanting to surprise her mother by having the carpet cleaned, she destroys the parrot by chemical fumes; or, after refrigerating the robin eggs she finds in the kitchen, she learns that Omma was hoping to hatch them. In penitence, Ava enlists as a volunteer on Salton Sea to help the California brown pelicans that have been poisoned by pesticides. Meanwhile, Omma keeps a journal chronicling the long history of her daughter’s bird slaughter—it also functions as a metaphorical history of Omma’s inability to fly free of the curse of her past as a prostitute. In alternating chapters, while Ava adjusts to the stinking daily death of pelicans, the reader learns of Omma’s early attempt to escape her adolescence as a sea urchin diver on Cheju-Do Island: she runs away to her friend Sun, sings at a folk village, then at a striptease joint for black GIs. Known as Helen, and pregnant, she manages to get to San Diego as the fiancée of a white soldier, who then abandons her when the black baby is born. Brandeis gives enormously sympathetic qualities to both Ava and her strangely impassive and emotionally scarred mother. Too many elements, however, fight for ascendancy and resolution: murdered prostitutes washed up on the shores of Salton Sea; the sorrowful, desperate history of Helen’s and Sun’s lives as GI prostitutes; and the early massacre at Cheju-do in 1948. While the writing can be breezy and lightweight for such gravitas, the plight of the mother and daughter is still heartbreaking.

In all, a wrenching tale exploring similar Korean-American identity as Nora Okja Keller’s Fox Girl (2001).

Pub Date: May 2, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-052803-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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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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