An important addition to 21st-century war literature, if a flawed one.


A female Italian soldier returns from Afghanistan physically and psychologically wounded and unsure how to start over.

After years of proving her mettle in a sexist Italian military, Manuela was given the command of a platoon in Afghanistan and only barely survived when a suicide bomber attacked the opening of a girls school. As the novel opens, she’s returned home to a small coastal resort town on Christmas Eve to recuperate, and her family—particularly her extroverted sister, Vanessa—is unsure how to help. No matter: Manuela’s attention soon turns to Mattia, a mysterious man who’s the sole occupant of a nearby hotel, and over the course of the following weeks, the two pursue an awkward romance. This novel, Mazzucco’s second in English translation (Vita, 2005), runs on two alternating tracks: a third-person chronicle of Manuela’s present-day recovery and her first-person recollection of her rise in the military and deployment. The latter thread is made of much stronger stuff, revealing Mazzucco’s close research on soldiers and the war in Afghanistan, as well as Manuela’s determination to overcome slights as a female leader to earn the respect of the men serving under her. When Mazzucco strains to suggest that everyday life is rife with similar calamities, she’s on shakier ground; Vanessa’s despairing attempt to find a morning-after pill doesn’t have the same gravitas as a war wound, nor does Mattia’s secret, revealed in the book’s climax. The novel fills an important gap in addressing the lives of female soldiers (and non-American ones), but in its effort to make Manuela’s tale symbolize multiple aspects of military and civilian life, Manuela herself gets a bit lost. Her PTSD, curiously, is treated as relatively minor in the face of holding a family together or finding true love.

An important addition to 21st-century war literature, if a flawed one.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-19198-6

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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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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