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TOO FAR AFIELD

A rich, troubling work that offers incontrovertible evidence of this great writer’s undiminished artistry, integrity, and...

On the heels of Grass’s Nobel Prize comes this graceful English version of his most recent (1995) and most controversial fiction: a potent criticism of German reunification, cast in the semi-fabulistic form employed so memorably in mega-novels like The Tin Drum and The Flounder.

The story’s set mostly in and around Berlin shortly after the “fall,” in 1989, of the Wall dividing East from West Germany. Its principal characters are two elderly men. One is former war correspondent and public East German intellectual Theo Wuttke, now employed as a superannuated office boy by the Truehand, the agency entrusted with steering the former East Germany’s enterprises and properties into the “new” country’s economic mainstream. The other is Ludwig Hoftaller, a vaguely sinister (though perfectly affable) figure whose history as a spy and informer extends (in magical-realist fashion) back to the 19th century, when Bismarck’s “unification” of warring German states bred the self-glorifying energies that would erupt in world war. The consequent linking of Germany’s past and present (a recurring theme in Grass’s fiction) is underscored by Wuttke’s fascination with classic German writer Theodor Fontane (coworkers mockingly nickname Wuttke “Fonty”), whose famous 1895 novel, Effi Briest, supplies the complacent repeated phrase—urging one to sticking to one’s business and avoid trouble—that gives Grass’s novel its deeply ironic title. Too Far Afield is reflective and intermittently discursive, perhaps as much a meditation on aging and facing death (and taking stock of how honorably one has lived) as it is a dramatization of the repetitive pomposity and folly of Germany then and now. Without some knowledge of recent German history, many readers may find much of it heavy going (though a helpful glossary does precede the text proper). Still, it’s filled with vivid and provocative symbolic incident (such as Wuttke’s efforts to “preserve” an antiquated elevator in the building that formerly housed the Nazi Air Ministry).

A rich, troubling work that offers incontrovertible evidence of this great writer’s undiminished artistry, integrity, and passion.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-15-100230-4

Page Count: 672

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2000

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MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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