ITALIAN FOLKTALES

Though folktales made their literary debut in Italy a century before Perrault appeared in France, the country produced no Brothers Grimm—no master-compiler of popular tales as told. And it's this lack of a "readable master collection" that Calvino set out to remedy in adapting these 200 tales from 19th-century regional compilations. The bad news is that the renderings—at least in English—are absolutely flat: without spirit, pacing, flavor, style. (One is inclined to blame the translator who commits a rhyme like "Perle Pete,/ Pass me a pear/ With your little paw!/ I mean it, don't guffaw,/ My mouth waters, I swear, I swear!" Or uses such sloppy colloquialisms as "he was dying to get married.") There is also no storytelling guile: tale after tale begins, dully, "there was once a king who had three sons"—or "three daughters"—and it's only the exception that starts, seductively, "There was once a miserly king, so miserly that he kept his only daughter in the garret for fear someone would ask for her hand in marriage and thus oblige him to provide her with a dowry." And the monotony of the telling only accentuates the repetitiveness of the situations and the motifs—which is itself accentuated by the regional grouping (a maiden not only poses as a youth twice in 25 pages, she is each time subjected to the same tests). On the other hand, it is amusing to see the regional variants of "The Untamed Wife"; or how—differently—a princess fashions her own Prince Charming in the north (out of gold and jewels) and the south (out of flour and sugar). And there are a number of selections that are both sly and special to their locales—like the story of the Florentine who traveled so that he could return to Florence with something to talk about; or the earthy tale—one of several such from Friuli—of Jesus' and St. Peter's revenge on the woman who denied them hospitality (promised that, like her generous neighbor, she would do all day "whatever you begin doing this morning," she unwittingly rushed to "relieve herself" before sitting down to spin). A comprehensive and representative assemblage, then, for those with a specialized interest, but not on a par with the old Borzoi or ongoing Pantheon national collections for out-and-out pleasure.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 1980

ISBN: 0156454890

Page Count: 804

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1980

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A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

ECONOMIC DIGNITY

Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

FRONT ROW AT THE TRUMP SHOW

The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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