Clear-eyed and captivating, Olafsson writes effortlessly, seemingly incapable of a dull paragraph or page. His people are...

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WALKING INTO THE NIGHT

Icelandic-born Olafsson (The Journey Home, 2000; Absolution, 1994) tells the life story of William Randolph Hearst’s fictional butler—deftly and grippingly.

Even when they’re married around 1910, in Iceland, something is amiss between handsome Kristjan Benediktsson and his lovely bride, Elisabet: Kristjan, the son of a simple fisherman, feels outranked by Elisabet, who performs Mozart on the piano and whose successful father, in import-export, is locally prominent. Still, an effort is made, the couple has four children, and, when Elisabet’s father dies, Kristjan takes over the business (and rescues it, in fact, from the fiscal abyss). But Kristjan likes his business trips to New York only too well (WWI has closed Europe’s markets to him) and likes them even better after he meets the beautiful Klara, Swedish, a dancer, the fiancée of a New York business associate, and—when he falls in love with her—the beginning of a terrible darkness for Kristjan. In 1918, he returns to Reykjavik, intending to stick by his family for keeps—until a letter from Klara , saying she’s pregnant. Without even a goodbye, Kristjan steals away, books ship, reunites with Klara—and later holds her in his arms as she dies following an abortion. And so it is that Kristjan, desolate, fallen so low as to be waiting tables at the Waldorf, catches the eye of Hearst, who so likes the handsome Icelander that he makes him his individual servant whenever he’s at the Waldorf—and then, in 1921, takes him out to San Simeon, where he’ll stay for the next 16 years, trusted and impeccable butler in the great palace that entertains celebrities galore and houses Hearst’s lovely mistress, Marion Davies. And then? Well, it’s now 1937, the Hearst fortune isn’t what it was, and . . . but let the reader find out.

Clear-eyed and captivating, Olafsson writes effortlessly, seemingly incapable of a dull paragraph or page. His people are real, period atmosphere and detail unobtrusively perfect, his novel a gem and small masterpiece.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-42254-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2003

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous White policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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