We’ll say it again: Saramago is the finest living novelist, bar none.


Far from resting on his laurels, Portugal’s 1998 Nobel laureate, now 80, brings us yet another ruefully comic and disturbing allegorical tale—a worthy companion to its superlative immediate predecessors Blindness (1998) and All the Names (2000).

The central figure is sixtyish widower Cipriano Algor, who lives with his married daughter Marta and her husband in an unnamed village not far from the commercial metropolis known only as the Center, to which he travels back and forth, bringing the pots and jugs he fashions out of clay to be sold. One day the “head of the buying department” informs Cipriano that his creations are no longer needed, and his unsold ones must be reclaimed. Acting on Marta’s suggestion, Cipriano turns to creating small human figurines, which are initially accepted, but then summarily rejected, by the Center. Out of work, “useful” only to the younger widow he’s attracted to and to a devoted stray dog (which he whimsically names “Found”) that seems to have come to him “from another world,” Cipriano prepares for retirement within the Center—until his accidental discovery of the truth hidden in its recesses reveals the significance of several haunting recurring images (smoke from what seems to be a crematorium, a house with a view of a cemetery, his dream of “a stone statue sitting on a stone bench looking at a stone wall”) and sends him on a final enigmatic journey. Saramago’s brilliant use of hurtling run-on sentences and thoughtful, mischievous narrative omniscience creates a richly suggestive text in which the plight of an ordinary man subject to an indifferent bureaucracy is juxtaposed with the theme of creation and its ramifications and responsibilities (it’s repeatedly emphasized that both Cipriano’s creations and we ourselves are “made” of clay) and the deeply ironic idea of a creative force that has become obsolete in a world where all is mandated, controlled, and regimented.

We’ll say it again: Saramago is the finest living novelist, bar none.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-15-100414-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2002

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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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