Epstein’s best book since his 1979 triumph King of the Jews—a synthesis of history and imaginative daring, akin to Catch-22...

READ REVIEW

THE EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD

The fate of Italy’s Jews during World War II and the visionary folly of a truculent anti-Semitic genius are the subjects of Epstein’s sprawling, ambitious tenth novel.

The complex narrative juxtaposes three interconnected stories: the memories of aged Max Shabilian during a 2005 return flight to Rome, where he had become the de facto right-hand man (and son-in-law) of maverick American architect Amos Prince; the diary in which Prince recorded his experiences, insights and prejudices; and a chronological account of the rise and fall of Mussolini’s brutal Fascist dictatorship. Epstein’s maze-like approach—which begins with “A Prologue” recounting acts of aggrandizement from the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 1000 b.c. to Mussolini’s 1936 seizure of Ethiopia, and ends with a bitter summary of World War II’s waning days—takes some getting used to. But the story soars as we learn of Amos’s scheme to immortalize “Il Duce” by erecting a memorial mile-high skyscraper (La Vittoria) and realize that he’ll pay any price (not excluding the surrender of his beautiful daughter Aria to the dictator’s lust) to fulfill his grandiose dreams. And the story escalates to tragic proportions when Max (a Jew) conceives a plan to save captive Jews from being delivered to Italy’s ally the Third Reich, only to see it backfire, making him, not the savior he had hoped to be, but “Max the murderer.” Compelling (if sometimes overdrawn) extended scenes vividly portray the accumulating madness, and Epstein offers rich expressionistic characterizations of such startling figures as cantankerous Amos (who combines the worst qualities of Frank Lloyd Wright and Ezra Pound), his Fascist- and Nazi-loving son Franklin, Mussolini’s tempestuous Party Secretary Farinacci and politically savvy Chief Rabbi of Rome Israel Zolli (among many others).

Epstein’s best book since his 1979 triumph King of the Jews—a synthesis of history and imaginative daring, akin to Catch-22 and the encyclopedic historical fiction of Thomas Pynchon and William T. Vollmann.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2006

ISBN: 1-59051-250-2

Page Count: 472

Publisher: Handsel/Other Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

Google Rating

  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • google rating
  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2014

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

  • National Book Award Finalist

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more