You could say, being charitable, that Heller has now firmly moved his work in a new direction: postmodernist, syncretic, contrapuntal. You could as well say, not being charitable, that his new book is the worst kind of disingenuous botch, a sad comedown indeed from the author of Catch 22 and Something Happened: an imagination-less, inflated, one-dimensional, and oh-so-cheap routine of historical juxtaposition and smart-alecky asides. The premise is spun from Rembrandt's painting (now in the Metropolitan of New York) of Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer. This leads Heller into a series of cut-aways to ancient Greece, to 17th-century Amsterdam, and to contemporary New York—a wearying clutch of historical facts all given the gloss of Ripley-ish can-you-believe-it? coincidence and astoundingly naive liberal consternation. There is no story here—do not search—only a run of ping-ponging piths, the fruits of Heller's historical readings. That Rembrandt was a money-eager, poor-bastard genius; that Plato was a facist; that lovely Aristotle must be writhing in his ethics to be up there on the Met's walls, all $2,300,000 worth of him; that Greek history shows remarkable parallels to recent American stupidities and casual barbarities (I.F. Stone territory). You keep waiting for Heller, as he did in God Knows, at least to stuff some jokes into the mouths of the dead—but he's too busy with the jaundiced set of this painting of himself ("Rembrandt would not afford a Rembrandt") to bother actually to novelize a little. Charity would venture that Heller might be walking in the steps of someone like Guy Davenport (who pulls off this kind of history-pastiche with grace and tang and never such painful earnestness—or such length). The uncharitable would say that Heller, with this novel-length screed against wealth, has produced instead a swollen between-boards equivalent of a Paul Harvey broadcast. Just terrible—and even a little boorish.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 1988

ISBN: 0684868199

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1988

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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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