Emphasizing the teller rather than the tales, the author weaves an intricate narrative of aesthetics and sexual politics.


Brazilian novelist Piñon (Caetana’s Sweet Song, 1992, etc.) forcefully brings out the erotic element in Scheherazade’s difficult and delicate situation as she spins the stories of One Thousand and One Nights to the Caliph of Baghdad.

The Caliph, it seems, found his wife in flagrante delicto with a slave and had her executed. Then he began to serially bed young women and have them killed immediately thereafter. Scheherazade, younger daughter of the Vizier, sets herself the task of breaking the chain of evil the Caliph has started. As we all know, her plan involves spinning out tales that catch his jaded imagination, tales so cunning and creative that he’ll keep her alive for another night, and another, and yet another. Of necessity Scheherazade “perfects the art of overlapping stories” and becomes “master of meager time.” Part of the price she pays, however, is the sex she must have every night with the Caliph, joyless couplings that disclose the state of his ennui. Joining Scheherazade at the Caliph’s palace, and at times colluding with her, are her older sister Dinazarda, whose emotions exist somewhere in the zone between envy and resentment, and their slave Jasmine, who intrigues to rise in the hierarchy of kitchen and stables. Both women discreetly withdraw when the nocturnal moment of sexual reckoning arrives. Ultimately, of course, Scheherazade becomes an allegory of the artist, spinning webs of words to capture the imagination. Toward the end of her storytelling tenure, Scheherazade grows weary and orchestrates a substitute bedmate for the Caliph, the first step on her road to freedom, though she has to find a substitute for her narrative art as well. Along the way she wonders whether it might not be preferable for the Caliph, “as a personal favor, to decree her death as a way to free herself from her destitute life.”

Emphasizing the teller rather than the tales, the author weaves an intricate narrative of aesthetics and sexual politics.

Pub Date: Aug. 5, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-26667-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

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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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