Pleasant fodder for armchair travelers and gardeners, if not appreciably different from the many other works of its kind....



A journalist observes the seasons in a garden in Canale, Etruria, and recounts the tribulations and satisfactions of creating it.

Readers who fantasize about getting a sweet little cottage set in romantic countryside, planting a garden there, and becoming part of a traditional community—that is, practically everyone who isn’t actually doing so at the moment—have created an insatiable demand for stories like A Year in Provence and In Tuscany to color their daydreams. Marble’s cheerful garden chronicle sticks to the established formulas of the genre, and revolves around the adventures of a sophisticated but sympathetic couple with some unspecified source of income who go off in search of their spiritual home in some not-yet-fashionable patch of countryside. They build a touchingly modest house with thick stone walls and a tile roof for a reassuringly low price, and adjust awkwardly to the lack of American comforts. The grudgingly productive farmland is gradually coaxed into luxuriant, decorative bloom, and there is the assortment of entertaining eccentrics and local yokels (who use dynamite to dig an orchard and wreak havoc with the water pipes) close by in the background. This particular specimen of the myth offers plenty of incidental pleasures: Marble’s prose is witty and reasonably charming, and she presents some sharp, precise observations on semitropical gardening (including a wonderfully detailed chapter on seed germination). Yet the little town of Canale never quite comes into focus either as a landscape or a society. Portraits of the indigenous population, including Massimo (a bulldozer driver with a mysterious past) and DeDe (a plant wizard with a sleazy husband) have a creepily condescending tone, as though it never occurred to the author that they might tell their stories for themselves, or that the perceptions of the people who have worked the land for generations might be as valid and interesting as a newcomer’s. Now that would be a refreshing variation on the theme.

Pleasant fodder for armchair travelers and gardeners, if not appreciably different from the many other works of its kind. (36 line drawings)

Pub Date: May 8, 2001

ISBN: 0-06-018574-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2001

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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