Autobiographical first novel told from the point of view of a young Amerasian boy, the son of a ``yellow-haired'' German-American GI and his Korean wife. Young Insu grows up in Inchon in a house that was owned by a Japanese colonel during WW II. Korean resisters were tortured here in the beautiful garden, but Insu, a sensitive boy, prefers to imagine the cruel colonel to have been more like a harsh surrogate father than a murderer. Insu's sorrows exist not only in his imagination. His mother gave up her other son for adoption so that her GI lover, Insu's father, would marry her. The missing brother is like a missing limb, and because of him, Insu despises his profane, profoundly alien father, whom he visits periodically on a post near the DMZ. There, he learns of other worlds: the Vietnam his father has been transferred from, the Germany where his Caucasian grandparents live, and, strangest of all, the America that he senses will shape his destiny. Although his father is diagnosed with inoperable cancer, Insu and his mother emigrate to America; she goes in the hope of finding her lost son, who had been adopted by an American couple. In the new land, an overwhelmed Insu tries to form an identity out of his mixed heritage of Korean folklore, Inchon street-life, and the black market strategies of his mother, all amid the confusion of America. Eventually, he begins to find his own way. He does well in school and his future is promising. And yet his brother, a symbol of his wrenching past, and of the difficult relationship between America and Korea, will always haunt him. Rather slow-moving, and different from its obvious antecedent, Gus Lee's moving but awkward China Boy. Think instead of James Agee's A Death in the Family: not as powerful, perhaps, but equally lyrical, dreamy, and sad.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 1996

ISBN: 0-525-94175-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.


The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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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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