A captivating tale gently spun.



Amid a lush landscape, wealthy young Spaniards play at joy.

In a novel notable for its graceful, restrained prose—sensitively rendered by translators Tennent and Relaño—Catalan fiction writer Rodoreda (1908-1983) (War, So Much War, 2015, etc.) creates a finely etched portrait of 1920s Spanish society, as seen through the eyes of a quietly attentive gardener. “I’ve always enjoyed knowing what happens to people,” the gardener remarks in the book’s opening line, recalling, from the vantage of old age, six summers when he worked for the newly married Senyoret Francesc and his wife at their seaside villa outside of Barcelona. Tending his plants, the gardener has ample opportunity to observe the “cheerfulness and ostentation” of his employers and their guests, whose superficial revelry is blighted by suffering, loss, and failed dreams. From Quima, the easily affronted cook, who gets details from the maids; Toni, a stable hand who self-importantly calls himself a riding instructor; the laconic local innkeeper; and even the postman, the gardener is privy to an endless stream of gossip about the “fools,” as Quima calls them, “who create a lot of work for the rest of us.” Designing the beds, growing seedlings, replanting, and weeding take mindful care and sometimes exhausting effort. The garden itself, described in sensuous detail, takes a prominent role, an expression of the gardener’s aesthetic sensibility and of the arrogance and self-absorption of its owners. Justifiably proud of his plants, the gardener becomes irritated when guests pick flowers indiscriminately; and he is incredulous when ordered to remove a swath of flowerbeds to accommodate guests’ cars: “Do you suppose a flowerbed in full bloom is like a chair,” he retorts, “and you can just move it around as you please?” But for the wealthy class, the garden is a mere prop: The owner of a neighboring villa, for example, hurries to plant some greenery as decor for a party. More than once, seeing his own flowerbeds ruined, the gardener is pained “to think about the gladiolus and the fate they had met.” But, he acknowledges with calm resignation, “those who have the money make the rules.”

A captivating tale gently spun.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-948830-08-9

Page Count: 206

Publisher: Open Letter

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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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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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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