McBride’s heart is on his sleeve, but these days it looks just right.


Four Americans from the 92nd Buffalo Division and a Tuscan village endure the worst of the war in a brutal and moving first novel from McBride (a bestselling memoir: The Color of Water, 1996).

The glossy Tuscany of Frances Mayes and the integrated army of Colin Powell are a half-century in the future in McBride’s history-based story of black Americans thrown against African-Americans in the storied 92nd joined New Zealanders, Gurkhas, and other Commonwealth forces to take back central Italy from the still-lethal German army. Today’s dreamy hill-towns and mountain vineyards were barren deathtraps in the freezing winter rain. Gigantic, gentle, illiterate Sam Train sets the action moving as he follows orders to snatch a young Italian boy from danger, then runs blindly in the wrong direction, clutching the boy and the souvenir marble head of a Renaissance statue he’d found earlier. Dodging gunfire, Train heads for the hills, convinced that the carving lends him invisibility. Three comrades, a brainy officer, a wily ex-preacher, and a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, try to retrieve Train, but he won’t leave the badly wounded child. The four soldiers, surrounded by the Germans massing for a new assault, are eventually forced into the village of Bornacchi, where residents are reeling from the Nazi slaughter of hundreds of their neighbors in the nearby church of St. Anna. Still, in the face of the worst that war has to offer, the villagers—pragmatic, superstitious, realistic and, to the wonder of the black Americans, willing to treat them with respect—not only persist but survive. The Americans’ very dicey situation deep in enemy territory is complicated by the arrival of a band of local partisans under command of the legendary Black Butterfly, with his own agenda. All will meet the Wehrmacht, but amid the treachery will come some small miracles before the end.

McBride’s heart is on his sleeve, but these days it looks just right.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2002

ISBN: 1-57322-212-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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