Intelligent and consistently interesting, with an engagingly original cast, subject, and themes—but the story itself often...

A CUP OF LIGHT

Mones (Lost in Translation, 1998) returns to China in a beguiling if overbusy tale of an American who finds love amid the complexities and intrigues of the foreign art world.

Thirtysomething Lia Frank works for a prestigious New York dealer in Chinese porcelains. A “mental librarian,” she has created a unique memorization system by imagining the thousands of small examination rooms that candidates for imperial China’s civil service once sat in, and mentally filing in each room a portion of her vast knowledge. She is also deaf and unmarried, sent now to China to appraise a superlative collection of antique pottery—literally hundreds of vessels—that has come on the market. Further, she’s on her own, since her fellow expert fell ill en route and had to be left in Tokyo. Being alone makes her nervous, especially once she sees the size of the collection and uncovers a few beautifully rendered but undoubted fakes. As Lia begins appraising the porcelain, Gao Yideng, the wealthy entrepreneur who hopes to sell the collection in America (he claims to have the Chinese government’s permission), plans how it will reach Hong Kong without being stopped at the border. He meets with ambitious intermediaries like Bai, who dreams of becoming rich from smuggling porcelain, and shares with him his plans for moving the pottery without being caught by customs. Lia, having researched its provenance and authenticity, concludes it was part of the great Imperial collection that was buried in farmland as the Japanese invaded in the 1930’s. She also meets Michael Doyle, an American doctor in remission from cancer and currently assigned to a local hospital. They fall in love, but Michael is wary of commitment, and Lia must ensure that the porcelain makes it safely to Hong Kong.

Intelligent and consistently interesting, with an engagingly original cast, subject, and themes—but the story itself often lags.

Pub Date: April 2, 2002

ISBN: 0-385-31937-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

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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