MOTHER TO A STRANGER

A pianist is shocked to be found by the son she gave away three decades ago.

Away in a small town in northwest Ireland resides one of those couples essentially invisible in fiction: middle-aged, childless, and fully content to be so. Nan is a talented concert pianist flying about the world to deliver performances, archaeologist Jim delivers the occasional lecture or paper but mostly potters around with their small batch of livestock. Their relationship is cozy and mostly free of controversy. But when a letter arrives one summer day from the son Nan gave up for adoption 30 years ago (before she met Jim, whom she never told), it’s as though a lightning bolt had struck right into their kitchen. Jim flies into a flagrantly childish and ill-conceived drunken fury over this startling news. On her way back from a recital in Poland, Nan stops off in England to visit 30-year-old Charlie, whose adoptive parents have just died in a car crash. Charlie later comes to stay with Nan and Jim for a few weeks, an event that sends Jim off on a deeper, drunker jag. Charlie’s odd, silent presence unnerves both of them at first, but Jim starts to come around. Irish writer Bardwell, in his US debut, tells the story a highly elliptical fashion, skipping all about the chronology, then from time to time (and from the side) tossing in Nan and Jim’s observations, memories, and increasing discomfort with each other. Though they’ve lived there for years, city-born Nan and Jim are still considered “blow-ins” in their small town, which has as much privacy as a communal bathroom and is touchingly but unsentimentally rendered with nary a touch of blarney. Though her characters never indulge in those long, strangely articulate outbursts meant to telegraph an author’s meaning, her marriage tale displays an understated fervor that deserves attention.

Tough-minded and moving.

Pub Date: June 23, 2003

ISBN: 0-85640-716-X

Page Count: 200

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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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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