Israel David Goodkind, 58 in 1973, Zionist lawyer and quintessential "American Jew," recalls his growing-up years (1920-1941) in loving, leisurely, anecdotal detail—with a few digressions into his present-day feelings about the inside/outside Jewish-American identity. In fact, Wouk gives his fictional alter-ego plenty of 1973 matters to brood on: Goodkind is a recently appointed Special Assistant (for cultural/Jewish matters) to Watergate-enmired Pres. Nixon—a crook, perhaps, but the Jews' best White House friend "since Truman"; Goodkind's daughter, once leftishly anti-Israel, is about to undergo a Zionist/Roots awakening during the Yom Kippur War; his aged mother falls ill during a trip to Israel; and Goodkind himself plays a small role in the War, as a go-between for Nixon and Golda Melt. Fortunately, however, these rather preachy concerns get very little emphasis here. Instead, Goodkind gives most of the space to his affectionate memoirs, a "lighthearted gambol" that stresses Wouk's comic/satiric gifts—even as it leans hard on the familiar theme of Jewish tradition vs. assimilation. First come episodes from "a supersaturated Jewish" childhood in the 1920s Bronx: proud, pushy Mama, daughter and granddaughter of Minsk rabbis; mild, wise Papa, overworked laundry-operator; ancient Bobbeh, prone to depression and epically smelly cookery ("The Sauerkraut Crisis"); beloved Zaideh, inspiring guide in the challenging study of the Talmud; hapless in-laws galore; early glimpses of the world "outside," of dirty talk, of anti-Semitism; and an unforgettable bar mitzva—when Mama plants an embarrassingly inflated story in the Bronx Home News and supervises the stuffing of an historically immense kishka. ("It went twisting all through the place, in and out of the rooms, sort of like a fire hose"—and bitter sister Lee had to "keep it off the floors, and arrange it so that guests when they arrived wouldn't get all tangled up in the kishka, or roped off by it from the drinks.") Later the family makes the breathless move to Manhattan—as Goodkind opts for Townsend Harris Hall and Columbia over yeshiva, becomes something of an "unbeliever," yet remains essentially devout. There are the usual fumbles at teenage lechery, a farcically disastrous first Big Date, romantic disillusionments. There's an odd chumship with ever-sneering classmate Peter Quat, who is destined to become (by 1973) the famously foul author of Onan's Way and My Cock, a Philip Roth-like novelist of American-Jewish alienation. (As for Goodkind, "I've never had much of a hang-up about being Jewish.") And, following Quat's lead, Goodkind puts off law school for a couple of years, working instead as a radio-comedy writer—while falling in problematic lust-and-love with non-Jewish showgirl Bobbie Webb: it's a doomed romance that will finally be abandoned. . . after the 1941 death of Goodkind's father. Here, and throughout, Wouk's viewpoints (traditional, Orthodox, Zionist) sometimes emerge in unappetizing flavors—platitudinous, sermonizing, complacently holier-than-thou. (The name "Goodkind" is no accident.) Whenever the mood turns serious the prose turns into a mush of clich‚s—while Wouk's material (devoid of suspense, short on character and plot) seems more suited to a 200-page memoir than a 650-page fiction. Still, if little more than an avuncular series of growing-up vignettes, this near-endless kishka of a novel is generously stuffed with zestfully old-fashioned humor and sentiment—from Old Country family-feuds (with genuine Sholom Aleichem edges) to vibrant 1930s show-biz farce at Harry Goldhandler's comedy-factory. (The young Herman Wouk worked as a comedy-writer for Fred Allen.) So even those Jewish readers more in sympathy with Roth than Wouk will find solid chunks of entertainment here—while older, more conservative Jewish readers will be both entranced and fortified: "I think my Mom and Pop much more nearly represented 'the American Jewish experience' than Peter Quat's diverting sex-mad college professors. . .

Pub Date: April 2, 1985

ISBN: 0316955299

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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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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