Despite these differences, both novellas, sliding from laughter to warmhearted sentiment as they pass deftly through...


Silbert’s hardcover debut is a pair of episodic novellas about two families of Jewish immigrants in, but never truly of, Chicago.

“The Free Thinkers,” the first and more successful of the pair, focuses on Ida, forelady in a dressmaker’s shop, who refuses to accept the role marked out for her—marriage to one of the interchangeable widowers her married sister Bessie keeps giving dinners to to parade her in front of—and instead pursues her freedom with winning single-mindedness. Even in the land of the free, however, being a free woman is a tricky business, ringed round with uncertainties, as Ida slowly realizes as she surveys the life she shares with watch-repairer Berman, who’s moved into her apartment without benefit of clergy. Cut off from her disapproving family, mired in a domestic routine as stultifying as any marriage, she yearns to emigrate to Palestine. But her determination to cut herself loose from her old life only raises probing, though repetitive, questions about what is means to be free, and how Ida might recognize the freedom she thirsts for. Silbert’s second, more ambitious novella, “The Idealists,” traces the fortunes of Yudl and Ryah Landau’s family over a period of 50 years. Silbert chooses moments that show the slanting claims on the family’s shifting loyalties: to the business of learning English and pledging allegiance, to their mother back in Russia and a stranger begging the affidavit that will help him escape Hitler’s Austria, to the backwards pull of their religious practices and their marriages. But the theme of idealism is too broad to supply the focus the epic canvas demands, and the episodes all too easily betray their roots as individual stories rather than a single coherent work.

Despite these differences, both novellas, sliding from laughter to warmhearted sentiment as they pass deftly through different characters’ minds and voices, show Silbert’s easy mastery of the Yiddish-American storytelling tradition.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 1-58322-025-9

Page Count: -

Publisher: Seven Stories

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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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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