A sensitive rendering of shattered lives.


The Vietnam War traumatizes a soldier and his family.

In her quietly affecting second novel, playwright, lyricist, and librettist Harrington (Alice Bliss, 2011) returns to upstate New York, the setting of her previous fiction, and to a family grappling with the horrific war injury sustained by their son, Billy. When his helicopter was shot down, Billy alone survived, severely burned. A hospital stay is followed by challenging physical therapy that leaves him despondent, afraid he will never draw again—and drawing is his passion. The bird catalog of the title refers to Billy’s field journals, depicting in precise, brilliant detail the proliferation of birds he observed in woods, lakes, and fields. Drawing birds, he says, became “a doorway, a bridge….It’s how I lived in the world.” The central relationship of the novel is between Billy and his younger sister, Nell, with whom he shares the wonders of nature. Frustrated and powerless to help Billy, Nell watches in despair as he succumbs to drink, depression, and nightmares. Although Billy is a sympathetic character, his traumas are by now familiar in novels and memoirs of the Vietnam War, his distinction being his artistic talent and connection to nature. Yet the natural world that he so deeply loves is being destroyed: Nell documents songbirds’ levels of mercury, a toxin that attacks the birds’ nervous systems, distracting them from sitting on their eggs long enough to hatch. Billy reports on a “rainbow moniker” of chemical agents used in Vietnam; Nell’s father engages in a project to monitor water and soil contamination from pesticides. Subplots focus on Nell’s deepening love for the solid, dependable Harlow, also a survivor of war; and the unsolved disappearance of Nell’s best friend, and Billy’s love, Megan. That mystery underscores Billy’s sense of loss and the community’s fear of being caught in a whirl of uncontrollable events—the war far from home and an unknown threat close by. It is a community, filled with those “suffering in mind, body or spirit.”

A sensitive rendering of shattered lives.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-60945-403-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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