Whatever its melodramatic excesses, Pitts’ novel, with urgency and passion, makes readers aware that the mistakes of the...

GRANT PARK

In the aftermath of this summer’s racially motivated mass murder in Charleston, South Carolina, by an avowed white supremacist, there’s near-eerie prescience in Pitts’ historical novel, which juxtaposes events 40 years apart in the lives of its characters.

On Election Day 2008, Malcolm Toussaint, an African-American columnist for a Chicago daily, sets his career on fire by hacking an incendiary column about how he’s “tired of white folks’ bullshit” onto his paper’s front page the day the country’s about to elect its first black president. (Malcolm, embittered by a police shooting of an unarmed black man, is convinced Barack Obama’s going to lose, no matter what the polls say.) His white editor, Bob Carson, whose computer was used without his permission to post the column, is fired, and he sets off to have it out with Malcolm. But that confrontation may have to wait because Malcolm’s been abducted by a pair of white supremacists who plan to use the columnist in a terrorist attack on the eponymous park where the Obama campaign plans to celebrate its triumph that night. This Hitchcock-ian suspense story is interspersed with flashbacks to 1968, when a younger Malcolm, then a militant college dropout, encounters Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights leader's ill-fated trip to Memphis to aid striking garbage workers. There are also scenes during that same year of a younger, more idealistic Bob, whose interracial romance is sorely stress-tested by events in Memphis leading up to King’s murder. Pitts, a Pulitzer Prize–winning columnist making his third foray into fiction (Before I Forget, 2009; Freeman, 2012), sometimes seems to strain for effect while moving two very different narratives along. And the book's setup seems almost too prefabricated. (Yes, there were older black activists who neither liked nor entirely trusted Obama that year, but hardly any of them doubted toward the end that he’d win.) Yet the novel’s lapses are all but overwhelmed by its breakneck momentum, and it's infused with vivid characterizations and canny verisimilitude, especially in the ’68 passages. For example: in the relative hagiography of the present day, it’s hard for younger readers to believe that King didn’t enjoy unilateral support from all African-Americans, especially at the time of his death. Hence the sardonic labeling of MLK as “De Lawd” by Malcolm and other Black Power advocates.

Whatever its melodramatic excesses, Pitts’ novel, with urgency and passion, makes readers aware that the mistakes of the past are neglected at the future’s peril.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-932841-91-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bolden/Agate

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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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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