Evocative storytelling, though the atmosphere of strong backwoods women eventually becomes as suffocating as a henhouse in...


Family saga and first novel by Laskas (stories: Fifty Acres and a Poodle, 2000) about the travails of three generations of backwoods women who serve as midwives.

The Whitely women have been midwives for as long as any of their West Virginia neighbors can remember. We enter their world through the eyes of Elizabeth Whitely, a teenager in the years just before WWI and somewhat reluctantly learning the trade from her mother. Elizabeth is a bit delicate for the grueling work of midwifery—and horrified at its seamier aspects, like the mercy killings that are sometimes asked for. But she is also awed by childbirth, including the “miracle babies” who are born dead but come to life in their mothers’ arms. One of these is Lauren Denniker, daughter of Ivy and Alvin, whom Elizabeth brought into the world. Ivy and Alvin are unhappily married, and Elizabeth is secretly in love with Alvin. When Ivy dies, Elizabeth moves in with Alvin as his common-law wife and raises Lauren as her own. She and Alvin try to have another child, but, cruelly, Elizabeth turns out to be barren. As Lauren grows, Elizabeth becomes aware of an ethereal quality about her—and discovers that (at age eight) Lauren has the gift of healing. Alvin and Elizabeth manage to keep Lauren’s powers secret for a while, but when the girl cures a dying baby, her fame spreads, and to keep his daughter from being turned into a circus freak, Alvin moves to California with her, leaving Elizabeth behind. Elizabeth stays on miserably, delivering babies and trying to forget her own loneliness. She falls in love with David Newland, a circus performer, and the two settle down together. Happily married, Elizabeth is still tormented by her inability to have children. When Lauren returns, years later, to visit her stepmother, Elizabeth knows what she needs to ask for.

Evocative storytelling, though the atmosphere of strong backwoods women eventually becomes as suffocating as a henhouse in July.

Pub Date: April 8, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-33551-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 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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