An improbable tale on the face of it, but thoroughly likable nevertheless, with a light touch and a rich collection of vivid...



Second-novelist Kelby (In the Company of Angels, 2001) offers an intricate story of a young woman’s attempt to unravel the mysteries of her mother’s (and her own) past.

Lucienne Kundera grew up in a laboratory in New Mexico and became an astrophysicist. Her mother Hélène was a French scientist who had worked with Madame Curie’s son-in-law, so Lucienne was doing nothing more than going into the family business. Now well into middle age, Lucienne teaches at a small college outside Boston and has made a good name for herself in the field, and she has just been awarded a large grant for her research into black holes. But her private life is a mess. Her marriage of 16 years (to another scientist) collapsed under the strain of the workaholic Lucienne’s career, and she now finds herself (in her 50s) wondering just who she is. Part of the problem is that she never knew her father—or even who he was: Her mother fled Paris in 1940 and turned up in New Mexico three years later with the newborn Lucienne. What happened in between? Lucienne never has had the opportunity to find out, until she goes many years later to a conference in Paris and brings her mother along (for her first visit since WWII). Hélène is overwhelmed by the rush of memories the city enkindles in her, so much so that she tries to kill herself. At the hospital, Lucienne meets Dr. Assam, a kindly physician assigned to her mother’s case who turns out to have more than a professional connection to Hélène. Slowly, Lucienne manages to collect the fragments of a life that wound its way through the fire of occupied France to the heat of Los Alamos and on to the murk of various mental institutions before it split apart like an atom.

An improbable tale on the face of it, but thoroughly likable nevertheless, with a light touch and a rich collection of vivid (sometimes horribly so) characters.

Pub Date: July 16, 2003

ISBN: 0-7868-6858-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2003

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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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