A fine study in the psychology of yearning, elegantly told.

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PERCIVAL’S PLANET

A closely observed saga of scientific discovery—but with stolen kisses, madness and plenty of other complications.

Percival Lowell, one of the many real-life characters in Byers’s (Long for This World, 2003, etc.) novel, is a man obsessed by many things: Martian canals, alien species, undiscovered planets lurking at the edges of the solar system. But, as Byers slyly observes, he “was not the only wild-eyed schemer that Arizona ever attracted; indeed, now in the summer of 1928, it can seem as though something in the desert air is drawing them by the carload.” Some are wealthy, including chemical-fortune heir Felix DuPrie, an amateur paleontologist who helps revise the fossil record—and names a dinosaur species after a woman inconveniently married to someone else. That someone else, meanwhile, names a comet after a woman inconveniently married to yet someone else. While Byers’s tale is generally family-rated, there is plenty of unrequited and rather desperate love to go around. Farm boy Clyde Tombaugh wanders into the pulsing scientific scene as if a less privileged Nick Carraway among the West Egg set and finds himself vying with the best minds Harvard can produce to find the planet Lowell so desperately seeks. Everyone in Byers’s pages is searching for something, whether far away or underneath the dirt—and no one, it seems, is quite content with what he or she has, except, perhaps, for DuPrie’s hardworking crew of Italian immigrants. Much is at stake, and as Byers’s players peer into the reaches of the universe, hearts break and minds snap. This would all be high-order romance were Byers not such a careful writer and, as it happens, so faithful a historian, and he turns in some lovely lines, among them this one: “The mind travels out into the landscape and, finding nothing, returns with the sense that something really is in residence there: something huge, silent, eternal.” Just so.

A fine study in the psychology of yearning, elegantly told.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9218-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2010

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A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

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THE OVERSTORY

Powers’ (Orfeo, 2014, etc.) 12th novel is a masterpiece of operatic proportions, involving nine central characters and more than half a century of American life.

In this work, Powers takes on the subject of nature, or our relationship to nature, as filtered through the lens of environmental activism, although at its heart the book is after more existential concerns. As is the case with much of Powers’ fiction, it takes shape slowly—first in a pastiche of narratives establishing the characters (a psychologist, an undergraduate who died briefly but was revived, a paraplegic computer game designer, a homeless vet), and then in the kaleidoscopic ways these individuals come together and break apart. “We all travel the Milky Way together, trees and men,” Powers writes, quoting the naturalist John Muir. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” The idea is important because what Powers means to explore is a sense of how we become who we are, individually and collectively, and our responsibility to the planet and to ourselves. Nick, for instance, continues a project begun by his grandfather to take repeated photographs of a single chestnut tree, “one a month for seventy-six years.” Pat, a visionary botanist, discovers how trees communicate with one another only to be discredited and then, a generation later, reaffirmed. What links the characters is survival—the survival of both trees and human beings. The bulk of the action unfolds during the timber wars of the late 1990s, as the characters coalesce on the Pacific coast to save old-growth sequoia from logging concerns. For Powers, however, political or environmental activism becomes a filter through which to consider the connectedness of all things—not only the human lives he portrays in often painfully intricate dimensions, but also the biosphere, both virtual and natural. “The world starts here,” Powers insists. “This is the merest beginning. Life can do anything. You have no idea.”

A magnificent achievement: a novel that is, by turns, both optimistic and fatalistic, idealistic without being naïve.

Pub Date: April 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-393-63552-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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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