Masterful prose, pacing, characterization, and ear for language.


An acclaimed poet, biographer, and novelist (The Last Station, 1990; Benjamin’s Crossing, 1997, etc.) memory-dips—and indulges his passions for mentor relationships and Italy: a lyrical and affecting coming-of-ager set in 1970 on the magical isle of Capri.

Alex Massolini, a young man in search of himself, takes a job as secretary to a famous Scots writer, Rupert Grant, a position that includes an initiation into Grant’s eccentric lifestyle and a place in the author’s unconventional “family.” The “smart son” from a working-class Pennsylvania Italian-American family, Alex abruptly drops out of Columbia University only a few credits away from graduation when his rebellious older brother, Nicky, is killed in Vietnam. In turmoil and with literary aspirations, he arrives at the Villa Clio and soon becomes embroiled in the ex-pat life. Sensuality is everywhere on the beautiful island, especially so in the Grant household. Grant’s 30-years-younger wife Vera takes Alex into her confidence and her kitchen (she’s an English heiress and cookbook author), and Grant’s young research assistants and “muses”—the refined English-American Holly and the torrid Neapolitan Marisa—take him into their beds. The villa is the scene of wonderful and tragic occurrences, and, in the tradition of Stingo in Sophie’s Choice and Nicholas Urfe in The Magus, Alex is both fascinated and repelled. Coming to terms with his brother’s death and his own future, befriending people like Father Aurelio and the French philosophy student Patrice, meeting real-life writers W.H. Auden, Graham Greene, and Gore Vidal (here Parini mines his personal roster of famous friends and acquaintances), Alex takes a journey of self-knowledge that’s ultimately an enviable experience.

Masterful prose, pacing, characterization, and ear for language.

Pub Date: March 5, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-621071-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2002

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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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