Not a story that will move readers, though a cool fascination awaits them on every page. And then there are Nissenson’s...


After 16 years, Nissenson returns with a futuristic tale that lacks the charm of his extraordinary Tree of Life (1985) but still has the compelling interest typical in Nissenson.

American artist John Firth Baker is born in 2037, genetically engineered so that, as his art-historian mother fervently wishes, he’ll have “the lust of the eyes” and be brilliant in manual art (not mere “digital,” mind you). The engineering has been done by American scientist Frederick Rust Plowman at the Ozaki Metamorphic Institute of Kyoto: a place chosen in order to evade the strictures of the “Created Equal Act,” a US law passed in 2030 prohibiting “the artificial alteration of genetically determined traits in humins except for reasons of health.” With this wry twist on today’s reproductive preoccupations, Nissenson gets his story moving—in an America where “womin” and “humin” are spelled, well, that way; all but the poor live in “keeps” (whole towns sealed off from the insufferably hot, dust-driven weather); and global warming is turning the avenues of Manhattan into canals. The story of Baker’s short life is told through pieces of diary, excerpts from an interview in The International Review of Manual Art, and snippets of monologue from various people who knew him—including the sleazy guru Billy Lee Mookerjee, a leader in the Gaian religion whom the infatuated young Baker follows, serving Billy as a “sheila” and even growing breasts (as a “he-she”) to prove his fidelity to the earth-principle. But the religion stifles—even forbids—Baker’s work as an artist, and only after he wrenches himself away from Billy Lee does his career flourish and fame come quickly, though bringing a lamentable end to the young genius.

Not a story that will move readers, though a cool fascination awaits them on every page. And then there are Nissenson’s pictures, 34 line drawings scattered throughout, so brilliant that it seems the book were made to illustrate them, not vice-versa.

Pub Date: May 11, 2001

ISBN: 1-56512-298-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2001

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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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