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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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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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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