THE BLACK ENVELOPE

With prose that's alternately tough and tender (Dashiell Hammett meets Rilke), as well as downright wacky, Romanian ÇmigrÇ Manea (Compulsory Happiness, 1993, etc.) offers another of his dense and often caustic views of modern eastern Europe. No one would dispute Manea's skill as a wordsmith—to do so with lines like ``The suspect sun is called Thursday. Still a century to go until Friday'' would be to join the same orchestra of folly that many of his characters play for. But one could easily fault him for laying the metaphors on too thick. It's endlessly difficult here to figure out what's standing in for what. Bucharest, in the throes of a ``happy spring,'' finds Tolea Voinov struggling with a web of vague conspiracy and lingering communist paranoia. Fired from his teaching job, Tolea is working as a receptionist at a hotel while investigating the suspicious death of his father—a Sorbonne-educated philosopher who fled Bucharest with his extensive wine cellar 40 years earlier. The wildly outspoken Tolea becomes more meditative as the novel wears on, and he familiarizes himself with the odd collection of cosmopolitan shut-ins who'll lead him to the photographer whose albums may provide the key to his puzzles. First, however, he must contend with a secret society of deaf-mutes that issues periodic, cryptic reports on his progress. In the classic Stanislaw Lem fashion of Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, Manea formulates Tolea's struggle as one pitted against an obsessive, anonymous bureaucracy bent on ensuring that ``nothing gets lost: everything is transformed— signs, substitutes, and invisible networks.'' None of this, though, prevents Tolea from participating in one of fiction's zestier sex scenes, during which he pumps ``the lava of the fiery night'' into a woman who asks him for a match. Nothing new, but the telling is handled in such a preposterously slippery way that it frequently seems so.

Pub Date: June 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-374-11397-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1995

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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