If you’re a fan of Foucault’s Pendulum and its kin, you’ll enjoy Blas de Roblès’ concoction.

WHERE TIGERS ARE AT HOME

Psychodrama meets history meets mystery—vintage Umberto Eco territory, as practiced by French philosophy professor turned novelist Blas de Roblès.

Athanasius Kircher is Eco territory, too. That is to say, in many interviews centering on his bibliophilia, Eco cites his vast collection of material written by and relating to the 17th-century Jesuit polymath. He presumably won’t mind that Blas de Roblès has appropriated his great hero and precursor, for there are no derivative notes in this inventive story, a sort of dream voyage into both present and past. Eléazard von Wogau, a French expat in Brazil, has been digging deep into the work of Kircher “with the same obsessiveness as some people collect bottles of whisky or cigarette packets long after they’ve stopped drinking or smoking.” As he does, his orderly life begins to dissolve ever more completely; his wife leaves him, his daughter disappears, and von Wogau himself begins to lose track of the dividing line between Kircher’s life and time and his own, Kircher’s biography steadily filling the space in which his own story might have been told. It’s a perfectly fitting setup, given, as Blas de Roblès notes, that in his day, Kircher faced accusations “of black magic by some simple or jealous people.” This densely woven tale is anything but simple, however, and the reader approaching it should be prepared for abundant shape-shifting and time-shifting. The payoff is not just the enjoyment of a craftily written historical novel with detective-story undertones, but also plenty of cocktail-party-worthy trivia: “Zoroaster was not a man but a title, the one given anyone who concerned himself with knowledge of the arcana & magic.” “[A]ccording to Servius, the word for elephant in the Punic language is ‘kaïsar.’ ” “A chicken, Caspar, a poulet, a pou-let! Don’t you get it?”

If you’re a fan of Foucault’s Pendulum and its kin, you’ll enjoy Blas de Roblès’ concoction.

Pub Date: March 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59051-562-4

Page Count: 725

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2013

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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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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