Though a minor contribution to the larger literature of World War II, a strange, heartfelt account of someone who served a...


Italian writer D’Eramo recounts her experiences in Germany in the closing months of World War II.

Falling in the same subgenre as Curzio Malaparte’s Kaputt, D’Eramo’s novel is really thinly fictionalized autobiography. When her father, a devoted fascist, removed her family to the Alps following the collapse of Mussolini’s regime, D’Eramo threw herself into the fascist cause, volunteering to join a labor corps in Germany. After she had a chance to study the involuntary members of her unit, Russians and members of political resistance groups among them, all of whom mistrusted her as a true believer in the cause, she decided to head home in disgust with the Hitler regime only to be sent in a labor detail to Dachau. While working to rescue survivors of a bombing in Mainz, a wall collapsed on her; she writes that a German soldier was hit in the head by a flying brick and then, after asking to see his children, “slumped to the ground, killed instantly.” Told sometimes in the first and sometimes in the third person, D’Eramo’s account addresses not just wartime experiences, but also her subsequent life in a wheelchair, paralyzed by the accident and dependent on drugs; some of the episodes she recounts are as hellish as anything she experienced in the labor camps, as when, writing of her addiction to Valium, she notes, “How could I have forgotten that it was the basic component of the truth serum used by the Nazis in Dachau?” In her dreams she may be running, fleet-footed, toward or away from that crumbling wall in Mainz, “truly like the others, thrashed, spat upon, just like them,” but her realities are somber and rueful, the disillusionment of a 19-year-old girl who survived into old age but never forgot that youthful indiscretion. The book resembles Malaparte’s in some of its hallucinatory aspects, but it also recalls work as various as Iris Origo’s War in Val D’Orcia and Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Castle to Castle.

Though a minor contribution to the larger literature of World War II, a strange, heartfelt account of someone who served a role few would confess to.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-13845-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...


An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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