Vividly and pointedly evoking prejudices "unconventional" couples among the current-day elderly faced (and some are still...

THE JAPANESE LOVER

Honored last year with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her inspiring fiction and soul-baring memoirs, Allende (Ripper, 2014, etc.) offers a saga of a couple that keeps its affair secret for the better half of a century. 

One of the lovers, Alma Belasco (nee Mendel), was barely 8 years old when her Polish parents, fearing rumors of war could prove true, sent her to live with her wealthy American uncle and aunt in San Francisco; bereft yet stoical when she arrives at Sea Cliff, she found allies who were destined to become “her life’s only loves”: her shy but devastatingly handsome and uber-intuitive cousin Nate Belasco; and her childhood playmate Ichimei Fukado, the charismatic son of the Belascos’ gardener, whose family was sent to an internment camp following the attack on Pearl Harbor. That this trio will ultimately help sort each other out is foregone, though how and when is not immediately clear. Allende prolongs the suspense, sprinkling Ichi’s soulful letters to Alma into the narrative of her postwar career as a textile artist with an outwardly perfect marriage and her abrupt decision to move out of the family estate into a Spartan room at Lark House—a slightly whackadoodle senior living residence that was bequeathed to the city by a chocolate magnate. At times Allende’s glib humor misfires (“I get them hooked on a TV series, because nobody wants to die before the final episode,” quips a member of the cleaning staff) or seems stunningly off-key (“Mexico greeted them with its well-known clichés”). Some readers may wince at a closeted gay character’s soft-serve admission: “Hearts are big enough to contain love for more than one person.” But among the white ponytailed hipsters and yoga-practicing widows at the senior center, Alma stands out—she’s haughty and self-centered and, after decades in the rag trade, “[dresses] like a Tibetan refugee.” She’s also a bit of a yenta: she deploys her part-time secretary, Irina (a doughty 23-year-old Romanian émigré), and grandson Seth (Irina’s love-struck suitor) to put her letters, diaries, documents, and other detritus in order. Then she toodles off in her tiny car every few weeks with a small overnight bag. Packed with silk nightgowns. Could this 80-something woman actually be meeting a lover, wonders Irina (who is grappling with some secret baggage of her own)? Just you wait.

Vividly and pointedly evoking prejudices "unconventional" couples among the current-day elderly faced (and some are still battling), Allende, as always, gives progress and hopeful spirits their due.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1697-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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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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