A stunning first novel from Wang, a Chinese émigré to Holland, depicts a young girl’s coming of age under the specter of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

When Lian Shui develops an unsightly rash, her mother Yunxiang, a university professor who’s to be sent to a reeducation camp in the countryside to mend her “bourgeois intellectual” ways, begs to be allowed to stay in Beijing to care for her daughter. The Head of the Party Committee takes pity and allows Lian’s mother to take the child with her to the camp. There, Lian’s education begins, as some of China’s best scholars become her tutors, educating her in the old ways, while she forms lasting friendships and uncensored ideas that Mao has forbidden. Isolated among adults, and precocious by nature, Lian later spends her youth amid the waves of terror and suffering wrought by the Cultural Revolution. She sees her beloved teachers persecuted and humiliated, and, after the family is allowed to return to Beijing, where she reconnects with her childhood friend Kim, she learns at firsthand the paucity and hypocrisy of Mao’s teachings. While he venerated the peasants and the working class, Kim, a “third caster, a mud-hut dweller,” is nonetheless vilified by students and teachers alike, no matter how she succeeds in the revolutionary virtues. Like Anne Frank before her, Lian is the eyes and heart of history, retaining the energy and hope of youth, the individuality of a thinker, while experiencing the pangs of adolescence and friendship that no regime or dictator can squelch. Wang’s prose, translated from the original Dutch, felicitously mixes the old with the new (“I didn’t give a hoot about what the others might make of it, but I was left reeling, as if the sky had landed on my head”); and, though the pace is leisurely, moral principles lie hidden in everyday occurrences. A rich, revealing, and powerful debut.


Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-48985-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2000

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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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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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