Dubois’ impressive mastery of her Russian material makes one hopeful for a more credible story line next time around.


He’s a Russian chess champion and would-be President; she’s an American facing terminal illness. Losing gracefully is a challenge for them both in this mildly piquant debut. 

A chess prodigy from a humble home, Aleksandr Bezetov enrolls in Leningrad’s chess academy in 1979. The lonely young man falls in with three dissidents who put out a journal documenting arrests of fellow activists, and he distributes it, while racking up ever more chess victories. Then one of his companions is killed in an “accident.” The Party tells Aleksandr he can represent his country if he ends his agitprop; he does so with a clear conscience and wins the World Championship while still in his early 20s. (Here and elsewhere, Dubois appropriates the career highlights of the real-life champion Kasparov.) Meanwhile in Cambridge, Mass., a very different story is unfolding. Irina Ellison is the daughter of a music professor and chess enthusiast with Huntington’s. He dies after 20 years of brain and body disintegration. The odds of Irina beating this inherited disease are only 30 percent. While still lucid, her father had written to Akeksandr, seeking advice on how to make a “graceful exit.” Irina finds the letter after his death. Now 30, she is determined to spare her loved ones (a barely glimpsed mother and boyfriend) the agony of watching her unravel. The obvious answer, suicide, is referenced but not fully considered. No, she will fly the coop, and maybe extract some ultimate wisdom from Aleksandr. Once in Russia, she admits “my quest was absurd.” She’s right, of course. Dubois masks the absurdity by deflecting our attention to Aleksandr’s story (essentially, it’s been his all along). By now it’s 2006, and he’s heading up a coalition of anti-Putin forces, even though it’s a lost cause fighting a ruthless regime. He gives Irina a job, but (surprise!) no exit strategy. 

Dubois’ impressive mastery of her Russian material makes one hopeful for a more credible story line next time around. 

Pub Date: March 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6977-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Dial Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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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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