AMERICAN GOLIATH

A fascinating picaresque novel, set in postCivil War America, by the underrated comic surrealist whose previous fiction includes The Egg of the Glak (1969). First things first: This is a masterpiece. It's the story, based on fact, of a hoax perpetrated in 1869 by one George Hull, black-sheep son of a Binghamton, New York, cigar-making family, who, upon hearing an overzealous preacher's assertion that the biblical ``Giants in those days'' may have existed in America, hires sculptors to construct a huge simulated human figure, buries it on his cousin's Cardiff, New York, farm, and arranges for the ``discovery'' of what will thereafter be known (and widely advertised as) ``the Cardiff Giant.'' Among those who scramble for a piece of the giant, and the action, are plutocrat Cornelius Vanderbilt, showman extraordinaire P.T. Barnum (who harbors presidential ambitions), actor Edwin Booth, scheming boxing promoters who exhibit ``Battling Mammoths,'' journalist Barnaby Race (who seeks both the truth and a good story), and a less-than- heavenly host of clergy, grifters, and dupes who display several highly amusing varieties of mass hysteria. The novel is a poker- faced paean to American enterprise, hucksterism, and criminality, energized by Jacobs's easy mastery of period detail and rhetoric (he even contrives a marvelously florid verse attributed to an impressionable poet who visits ``the giant's'' remains). And, in a spectacular magic-realist twist, Jacobs presents (in italicized interpolated fragments of dialogue) what seem to be the thoughts of the nonexistent giant—``created,'' perhaps, by George Hull's greed and by his country's hunger to believe in such marvels. P.T. Barnum sums up George Hull's nefarious accomplishment beautifully: ``What you did was a wonder and a legend for the ages. A beautiful scam and splendidly wrought.'' The same may be said of Harvey Jacobs's stunningly inventive and charming fiction—arguably this year's best novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 1997

ISBN: 0-312-16771-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1997

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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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