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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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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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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