Manifest Destiny meets magic realism.

ENIGMATIC PILOT

A TALL TALE TOO TRUE

Ripe with symbolism, conspiratorial metaphors and fabulist intents, Saknussemm's third novel (Private Midnight, 2009, etc.) is an allegorical American frontier experience.

It's the 1840s, and Hephaestus Sitturd, son of an itinerant Baptist preacher and a half-Shawnee woman, marries Rapture Meadhorn, whose escaped slave grandfather was a Creole Gullah from the Carolina sea islands. Rapture is an herbalist and healer, valued in the wilderness community of Zanesville, Ohio, but Hephaestus is a tinkerer, intent on building a Time Ark to confront the end-of-the-world prophecies of one William Miller. To the pair is born Lloyd Meadhorn Sitturd, a preternatural genius. At age six, he speaks multiple languages, solves complicated mathematical problems and constructs assorted airships. Dogged by debts and persecuted by bigots, the trio sets out for Amarillo to join Micah Jefferson Sitturd, Hephaestus' half brother, a former Texas Ranger. And thus begins a trek, not Pilgrim's Progress, not an Odyssey, but rather a tropological literary journey down the Ohio to Porkopolis (Cincinnati), across to St. Louis and up the Missouri to Independence. Along the way Lloyd meets Henri St. Ives, a gambler with a fantastical mechanical hand, Professor Mulrooney, married to identical twins who serve as assistants in his traveling medicine show, Urim and Thurimmun, microcephalics deposited in Illinois by a tornado, an underground oracle, and possible agents of the Spirosians and the Vardogers, two secret societies. There's time for Lloyd to fall in love with Hattie, a runaway slave, and attempt interpretation of the scripture of the Quists, a persecuted religious sect. Despite the fabulist plot, Saknussemm's imagination and narrative skills hold the adventure together. Written in connected sequences, the book opens with a surrealistic prologue set in 1869. A young lieutenant on a Great Plains mapping mission observes a man mounted on a mule holding a white gyrfalcon. Is it Lloyd? Readers can only imagine, for the book ends as the Sitturd party sets out from Independence toward Texas.

Manifest Destiny meets magic realism.

Pub Date: March 22, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8129-7417-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2011

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

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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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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