Dark comedy and enveloping tragedy converge in this powerfully disturbing novel.

THE WHITE KING

A debut novel by a 34-year-old Romanian author that depicts totalitarian brutality from a child’s perspective.

When the father of 11-year-old narrator Djata leaves home, escorted by some strange men, he tells his son that he has to go to a research station and will be back in a week or so. As months pass, Djata must try to come to terms with his father’s disappearance. Is he imprisoned? Dead? Had the man he has always trusted completely lied to his son? Throughout the first half of the novel, many chapters read like self-contained episodes, even parables, with little narrative momentum. Yet the accumulation of detail allows the reader, sometimes earlier than the narrator, to discover hints as to what has transpired in this unnamed country (based on the author’s native Romania). The “crime” of Djata’s father was to sign a petition. His disappearance has deepened a rift between Djata’s mother and his grandparents, who blame her for their son’s plight. The grandfather is a recently retired Party secretary, whom even his grandson must address as “Comrade Secretary.” Does he still have the power or connections to come to his son’s aid? Or did the imprisonment of Djata’s father cost Comrade Secretary his position and influence? The novel details almost two years in the life of Djata after his father’s disappearance, years in which children turn almost as brutal toward each other (with a Lord of the Flies morality) as teachers, coaches and figures of authority are toward the children. One vignette has them playing soccer on a radioactive field; another has them playing war games that risk the fatalities of a real war. Then there’s the appearance of the mysterious Pickax, a man whose face has been disfigured beyond recognition and who has some seemingly mysterious powers. Is he Djata’s father? Does he know the fate of Djata’s father?

Dark comedy and enveloping tragedy converge in this powerfully disturbing novel.

Pub Date: April 21, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-618-94517-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2008

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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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