A book that Vonnegut’s casual fans and students of his work alike will want to have.



A bookended set of early and late works by the late, great and surely lamented dystopian Vonnegut (A Man Without a Country, 2005, etc.). 

When Vonnegut died in 2007, he left behind piles and boxes of manuscripts. Among them, as his daughter Nanette writes in her foreword, was a piece, “Basic Training,” from the late 1940s or perhaps 1950—not so long, in other words, after Vonnegut’s military service and all the terrible moments he would bring from it into his work. The piece, much longer than the usual short story of the time but perhaps a little short of a novella, too, is a conte à clef about Vonnegut’s time as a teenager on a country farm haunted by the stern presence of a senior officer who’d seen service in the trenches in World War I and wasn’t about to put up with any of the young protagonist’s guff. That guff, of course, involves getting well acquainted with the General’s daughter, a local beauty; says one of the protagonist’s conversants, “The General says she’s a lot smarter than some of the livestock in the neighborhood, too.” The tale quickly devolves into a great big shaggy-dog story full of Vonnegut’s soon-to-be-customary anarchic, cynical good humor; everyone goofs up, but just about everyone, including the General, retains humanity by virtue of simply being flawed. There’s none more flawed than the protagonist, though, whom the General greets as less than a fellow-well-met: “[A]nd what sunshine are you going to bring into our lives today? Shall we poison the well or burn the house down?” The second piece, unfinished at the time of Vonnegut’s death, is, well, of a piece, its language much saltier and its air much more world-weary; but if at times it seems as if Vonnegut is dipping into a well-used bag of tricks, at others it seems just as much that he’s putting a fresh coat of paint on classics such as Cat’s Cradle (1963), as with this nice little outburst: “You think people farts are bad? The polar ice caps are melting, I shit you not.”

A book that Vonnegut’s casual fans and students of his work alike will want to have.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59315-743-2

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Vanguard

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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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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