Grass as lucid, sardonic, and unsparing as always.

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CRABWALK

Nobelist Grass (Too Far Afield, 2000, etc.) ponders guilt and memory in an unsettling tale that draws from a forgotten maritime disaster.

When a Russian submarine torpedoed the Wilhelm Gustloff on January 30, 1945, narrator Paul Pokriefke was still in his unmarried teenaged mother’s womb. Thousands went down with the ship, but Tulla Pokriefke was rescued and gave birth on a torpedo boat. Resettled in East Germany, she endlessly recalls that fatal day and badgers her son to write it all down for future generations. Paul eventually opts for life as a hack journalist and slips into West Berlin. In the story’s present, he is under orders from his employer to unravel the chain of events that led from Wilhelm Gustloff’s enthusiastic proselytizing for the Nazi party in Switzerland to his assassination in 1936 by Jewish medical student David Frankfurter, his apotheosis as a fascist martyr (the cruise ship named after him provided National Socialist vacations for the masses), and his rediscovery in the 1990s on a neofascist Web site created by Paul’s son Konrad. Estranged from his divorced parents, Konrad has fallen under the influence of Tulla, an implacable survivor á la Mother Courage, who gives her alienated grandson the computer that enables him to communicate with others seeking to rewrite Germany’s past. He forms a combative yet oddly jocular online relationship with “David,” who offers unwelcome reminders of the Nazi regime’s genocidal underpinnings. Their real-life meeting provides the grim climax of a narrative that views fascist hate-mongering, Stalinist lies, capitalist corruption, and the eternal failures of parents with the same angry disdain. Mitigating humor comes from Paul’s decision to “sneak up on time in a crabwalk, seeming to go backward but actually scuttling sideways,” often teasing the reader by veering off at climactic moments to ratchet up the tension before coming to his bleak conclusion: “Never will it end.”

Grass as lucid, sardonic, and unsparing as always.

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-15-100764-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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