A fascinating subject and fine storytelling merge in this novel of a Spanish gender-bender.




A rollicking, captivating account of Catalina d’Erauso, a real-life 17th-century Spanish woman who went to the New World and lived as a man.

Based on Catalina’s own autobiography of her life as the “Lieutenant Nun,” and other historical documents, German debut novelist Orths creates a thoroughly modern narrative filled with tangential tall tales and odd bits of history as Catalina renegotiates the territories of custom and gender. As this version goes, Catalina was born in 1592 in San Sebastian, Spain, on an auspicious day of sun and rain. Her older brother Miguel helped with her birth and from then on was the headstrong Catalina’s primary caretaker. It is when Miguel leaves to run the family’s silver mine in Bolivia that young Catalina hatches her plan—she will risk everything to join Miguel in New Spain. She joins a convent (the only way a young girl can get a good education) and proceeds to become a model student, where the discipline and self-degradation she practices will steel her for the arduous journey. As a young woman, she runs away from the nunnery, taking shelter in a cave in the hills and transforming herself into Francisco Loyola. She moves to the city, where she becomes a physician’s assistant to Juan de Arteaga, and, more importantly, practices the ways of men. She scratches and curses and makes sly eyes at the ladies who pass, takes fencing lessons, roughens her hands and builds muscle so that no one will question her. On a mysterious ship of mute sailors, Francisco and Juan sail to the Americas together, where Catalina secretly searches for her brother. In South America, Catalina/Francisco becomes a soldier, renowned on the field for blood lust, then becomes a gambler, a murderous brawler, is cruel to women and—in short—engenders every undesirable trait of a stereotypical male. Orths refrains from simplifying this portrait of a gender-bending heroine, questioning instead the permeability of identity.

A fascinating subject and fine storytelling merge in this novel of a Spanish gender-bender.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2006

ISBN: 1-59264-165-2

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Toby Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2006

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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