Raucous adventure tale of a man’s journey from the Dead Sea to the top of Mt. Everest, in a hundred vignettes touring early 20th-century pop culture.

Author Siegel’s mother reveals in a prologue that Siegel’s recently deceased father wasn’t really his father. His real father was Isaac Schlossberg, a showman and adventurer who left behind a box of papers and a mysterious game that looks a lot like Chutes & Ladders but is actually Snakes & Ladders, a chessboard-like device of Eastern origin. Stories are written on each of the squares of his version of the game, and such is the book: a hundred chapters detailing Schlossberg’s madcap adventures. Says second-novelist Siegel (Love in a Dead Language, 1999), “To play the game, it seems to me, is to become acquainted with the author in the same way we get to know a person in real life.” The “squares,” or chapters, go from the Wild West to the Mystic East, and through the Prime Meridian to Novel Antipodes, eventually heading toward the enlightenment of Everest, where it may turn out that Schlossberg made it to the top before Hillary. The story, fragmented and random (and entirely without paragraph breaks), offers up history in an old-fashioned pop culture—biblical figures in the context of vaudeville acts, for example. There are cameos from famous figures (“Buffalo Bill and Geronimo were shooting it out for the heart of Matanka Hickok at the Old London Theater,” or ‘ “I act according to the intent of the Almighty Creator,’ ” Germany’s chancellor, Adolf Hitler, said in a speech at an anti-Jewish rally in Munich”). It’s never clear whether we’re supposed to read the book or play it, and one wishes the “game” came with a clearer set of instructions. But the cast is lively and the history complete. Even if we don’t buy into Schlossberg’s adventure entirely, Siegel is there to tell us that “A person’s lies always reveal some truth about them.”

Vast and zany.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2003

ISBN: 0-670-89461-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002

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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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