Lebrecht’s first novel (The Song of Names, 2004) was grounded by his deep knowledge of music, but here he is as unmoored as...


The psychic scars of a death-camp survivor just won’t stop itching.

When we meet Paul Miller he’s a popular guy in a mountain village in a thinly disguised Germany. The 30-something architect has just been elected the town’s first postwar mayor, winning over the residents with, of all things, an espresso machine installed in the ancient hostelry where he works. What they don’t see is the rage and self-loathing percolating behind Paul’s friendly façade. He is in torment because this is the same village that housed the notorious labor camp where he was confined during the war. Every day the prisoners would march past the gaze-averting villagers to break rocks in the quarry while Paul designed a weapon silo, watched by the brutal commandant Hans. After their liberation, Paul was nursed back to health by the innkeeper’s daughter Alice, a simple, loving soul who will later marry him and give him a son. What she can’t give him is peace of mind, for Paul carries heavy baggage. When war broke out in his native Poland, his parents and Jewish fiancée were seized; the fiancée was later crucified on a church door. Paul was blameless but is crippled by guilt, made worse by his irrational misgiving that he failed his fellow prisoners. From this material Lebrecht could have spun a revenge yarn, with Paul tracking down the evil Hans, or a couch drama, with Paul spilling his guts to an analyst. Instead he gives us a bit of both, but not in a way that creates suspense. Hans is found hiding in plain sight. Should Paul kill him? He and his analyst wrestle with this, though Paul had already decided in the camp that murder was not an option. The climax is a messy, melodramatic compromise.

Lebrecht’s first novel (The Song of Names, 2004) was grounded by his deep knowledge of music, but here he is as unmoored as his hapless hero.

Pub Date: July 7, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-37725-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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