The old problem of free will and predestination gets a good workout, but Betancourt’s novel is less satisfying than her 2010...

THE BLUE LINE

Erstwhile Colombian politician Betancourt (Until Death Do Us Part, 2002, etc.) tries her hand at a kind of watery magical realism in this debut novel.

Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. That explains why someone like Juan Perón could have returned to power following disgrace and why the generals who ruled Argentina in the 1970s and '80s could have disappeared so many men and women who simply sought justice. Julia and Theo are caught up in events. As a very young girl, Julia had learned that she could see things unfolding through the eyes of others, a kind of clairvoyance accompanied by tremors and “an irrational feeling of panic.” Moreover, Julia has a touch of synesthesia, and for her, “happiness is blue,” as in the place where the blue line of the sky meets that of the ocean. That’s all well and good, but Julia doesn’t see far enough into her own future to see that life with Theo is going to be difficult: “He wasn’t handsome by any means,” writes Betancourt, with the head-scratchingly vague addendum, “but he had the appeal of young people who enjoy other people’s company.” Life with Theo is complicated in part because he’s got a wandering eye, in part because of the inquisitors who disapprove of the young couple’s generously liberal politics: “Say good-bye to your youth, asshole,” barks one. “When you come back you’ll feel a hundred years old.” Improbably, Julia and Theo make their way out of prison to the comfortable suburbs of America, where a different future unfolds. The best passages of Betancourt’s novel take place behind bars, which speaks to her own well-known captivity in the hands of Marxist guerrillas. Against this, Julia’s supernatural powers seem an unnecessary flourish, though clearly she’s useful to have on hand if trying to dodge oncoming cars or downward-hurtling planes.

The old problem of free will and predestination gets a good workout, but Betancourt’s novel is less satisfying than her 2010 memoir Even Silence Has an End.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-658-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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