Hard to believe, but Erdrich just keeps getting better.

THE PAINTED DRUM

The eponymous Native American object vibrates powerfully—as both instrument and symbol—in this tenth volume in Erdrich’s epic Ojibwe saga.

The drum is found, in a New Hampshire farmhouse following a sudden death, by Faye Travers, a middleaged divorcée of mixed ethnic origin, whose complicated personal life dominates the novel’s expository opening section. She’s a former drug user, now living with her mother Elsie and sharing the duties of Elsie’s “estates business”; the lover of a moody German sculptor, and an assiduous observer and considerer of birds, other natural phenomena and persistent memories of her younger sister Netta’s accidental death in childhood. Reasoning that the drum—found among a white family’s possessions—was “stolen from our own people,” Faye absconds with it, then travels west with Elsie to the Ojibwe reservation to which they’ll return it. The drum then “tells” its story, in three interconnected narratives. The first details the sundering of “old Shaawano’s” family when his wife Anaquot, “burning” with love for another man, flees with her illegitimate baby and older daughter, inadvertently sacrificing a child’s life to a pack of starving wolves. The second relates further consequences of Anaquot’s folly, then tells how Shaawano, inspired and burdened by “visions” of a dead child, painstakingly fashions the drum (“a container for the spirit, just as if it were flesh and bone”). The third story reveals how, two generations later, the drum sounds again, and three children left alone in a freezing house and subsequently lost in frigid darkness, hear its “healing” music. Erdrich draws us into her exquisitely detailed world effortlessly, and even this novel’s frequent excesses of summary cannot blunt the power of its narrative ingenuity and luminous prose. The worlds of ancestry and tradition, humans and animals (notably, wolves and ravens), living and remembering and dreaming, are here rendered here with extraordinary clarity and insistent emotional impact.

Hard to believe, but Erdrich just keeps getting better.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2005

ISBN: 0-06-051510-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2005

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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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