Wonderful, mind-bending stuff. Don’t miss it.


A fascinating religious allegory is built from the barest and unlikeliest of materials in this enigmatic and quite remarkable third novel by the British author of The Restraint of Beasts (1998) and All Quiet on the Orient Express (1999).

The unnamed narrator begins and ends his story by describing his contented existence in a tin house situated on a solitary plain. But his solitude is broken when a woman, Mary Petrie (who seems to know him), inexplicably moves in and starts giving orders, and when his (distant) neighbors begin visiting, then inform him of their respectful obsession with one Michael Hawkins, a recluse (and, presumably, a sage) who leads “a supposedly marvelous existence somewhere beyond the horizon.” People begin flocking westward, the narrator eventually among them, to join in the construction of a canyon (a lifelong fantasy of the narrator’s, as it happens), under Hawkins’s supervision, where more permanent homes can be erected. But envy and conflict creep into Michael Hawkins’s utopia, and the tale ends with the narrator back in his tin domicile, persuaded all has been for the best. Mills’s very title, as well as several unmistakably biblical character names (Michael, Mary, Simon), of course evokes both the journey of the magi to observe the Christ child and the martyrdom of a beloved leader whose followers turn on him. But other particulars of this rigorously spare, understated tale hint at such thematic possibilities as the frailty of the physical “housing” in which the soul resides, the conflict between the individual ego and the world that contains and (so to speak) restrains it (“ . . . a man remains master in his own house, so long as he observes all the rules”), and the mingled fear and relief with which the mortal body embarks on its slow passage toward death. There’s real genius in the range of symbolic and emotional effects that this contemporary Kafka (or Beckett, as some have noted) wrests from his fiction’s simple, economical essentials.

Wonderful, mind-bending stuff. Don’t miss it.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-28355-5

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2001

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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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