Gibbons's fourth novel, inspired by WPA oral histories, lacks the subtlety and charm of her previous books (A Cure for Dreams, A Virtuous Woman, Ellen Foster). As a tribute to no-nonsense southern feminism, it risks stridency and strains belief. This fictional memoir of the narrator's most remarkable grandmother celebrates a freethinking, strong-willed woman who has little use for most men. Charlie (Clarissa) Kate Birch is a turn- of-the-century midwife whose medical acumen makes her a legend in North Carolina well into the 20th century. Unschooled but a voracious reader, Charlie Kate works her miracles at everything except her own marriage. Her husband heads for the hills soon after the birth of Sophia, who later takes after her mother by marrying a faithless cad, one rewarded with an early death. Sophia's daughter Margaret, the narrator, chronicles the shared lives of these three women as they experience in relative comfort the 30's and 40's. They're self-sufficient, well-read, and cynical in matters of faith and sex. They're equally contemptuous of the idle rich and the vulgar poor. As Charlie Kate's assistants, Sophia and Margaret are exposed to a full range of human frailties and oddities. A real can-do family, these women display remarkably good taste for their times, disparaging Gone With the Wind while venerating ``Mr. Faulkner.'' Something of a prig, Margaret doesn't hesitate to lecture illiterates and humiliate lusty boys. Her virtue is well rewarded when she meets the smart, handsome, and rich Tom Hawkings, who falls head over heels for this kindred spirit. Meanwhile, Sophia remarries well, and the great and aging matriarch can die in peace. A fairy tale of the South that embodies the values it celebrates: frugality, rectitude, and common sense. In other words, boring and self-righteous.

Pub Date: March 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-399-13791-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1993

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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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