A leisurely paced novel from master stylist Skibell (The English Disease, 2003, etc.), who does a fine job of acquainting...

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A CURABLE ROMANTIC

Dr. Jakob Sammelsohn, an oculist, falls in love with two different women at two different periods in 20th-century history—and along the way prominent figures, most notably Sigmund Freud, get caught up in his relationships.

At first Sammelsohn has the misfortune to become smitten with Emma Eckstein, one of Freud’s most famous patients. While love is always a complicated affair, the complications become more extraordinary when the object of your affection is herself in love with Freud and displaces this relationship onto you. Sammelsohn finds that Emma is more than he can handle when she begins to channel Ita, Sammelsohn’s young wife, who had died by suicide on their wedding night, when her husband was only 12. When Emma is committed to a hospital for symptoms of hysteria, Sammelsohn consults Freud to try to figure out how to deal with her strong desire to consummate the relationship—and, ironically, Freud is technically brilliant in his diagnosis but flustered by the reality of this woman. The narrative then shifts to a lengthy discussion of Dr. Ludovik Leyzer Zamenhof, creator of Esperanto and motivated by the universal language movement to seek peace and harmony. One of his followers is Fräulein Loë Bernfeld, with whom Sammelsohn falls desperately in love. Unlike his relationship with Emma, this relationship is consummated (in a scene that manages to be simultaneously both comic and erotic) and eventually leads to their marriage (destined, alas, not to last). Finally, the narrative shifts to the Warsaw Ghetto in the late 1930s, where Sammelsohn becomes involved in a bizarre scheme with an outré rabbi, but he emerges triumphant, eventually heading to the promised land of Palestine, thanks to the ghostly and angelic visitations of the late Ita.

A leisurely paced novel from master stylist Skibell (The English Disease, 2003, etc.), who does a fine job of acquainting the reader with 20th-century European intellectual culture.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-56512-929-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2010

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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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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