Stories, yes, but without characters a reader can care about, they remain surface only.

SUMMERHOUSE, LATER

STORIES

The ten stories in Hermann’s debut are said to have been a great success at home (Hermann is a Berliner), but to the Yankee ear they seem to consist, for the most part, of youth, pose, and attitude.

The exception is the fine opener, “The Red Coral Bracelet,” which ought to have been the title story. A German bride, shortly before the 1905 revolution, is taken to St. Petersburg by her husband, a builder of furnaces. Furnaces are so needed in Russia that the husband is away for years—with the result that adultery with the bride occurs, and a birth, but not before a duel, and a death. Years later, the bride’s great-granddaughter, burdened with these mixed and exotic origins—and wearing a bracelet from St. Petersburg—unburdens herself to a shrink and loses the bracelet as its string breaks and “the six hundred and seventy-five coral beads were scattered all over the room.” This wonderful Babel-esque release from history is the theme also of the title story (a Berlin cab driver buys an 18th-century manor house, repairs it, then it burns down), but the characters—ultrahip young adults—are so shallow, thin, and unprepossessing that the allegory has no emotion to take root in. Likewise, in “Hurricane (Something Farewell”), two young women visit a friend who’s gone to live on a tropical island, but the characters are so insensitive and unlikable that the story’s symbols are just exercises in air. Other pieces, too, seem more riff than depth: In “Sonja,” a strange woman becomes fascinating to a painter; an aging bachelor living in a fleabag hotel in New York meets a girl and doesn’t know what to do (“Hunter Johnson Music”); a girl seduces a famous artist, who’s a near-dwarf (“Camera Obcsura”); and a hatefully cranky old granny dies by catching on fire from a candle (“The End of Something”).

Stories, yes, but without characters a reader can care about, they remain surface only.

Pub Date: April 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-000686-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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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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