An imprisoned Ukrainian dissident artfully unearths his past in stories.

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LIFE WENT ON ANYWAY

One writer’s early days in Crimea.

Arrested in May 2014, Ukrainian filmmaker and activist Sentsov now is serving a 20-year sentence in a Russian prison after his conviction on dubious terrorism charges in 2015. Oscar-winning filmmakers and PEN International have rallied to his cause, and the publication in the West of this debut collection is part of the campaign to bring attention to his unjust incarceration. In eight brief stories that read like slices of a memoir in progress, Sentsov revisits his early life in a Crimean village, a world that for him “had limits, but it wasn’t limited.” Though his ostensible subjects don’t rise above the mundane—his dog, his childhood illnesses, and his years as a victim of relentless school bullies—Sentsov consistently manages to see the world through the eyes of a child while writing, in a disarmingly unaffected style, with the wisdom and sardonic wit of a sometimes-disillusioned adult. He displays that talent in “Dog,” the story of the German shepherd he received as a 12th birthday gift. In a few paragraphs he effortlessly navigates the transition from their pleasant walks “on a damp autumn day, in the long, bright twilight” to days when “walking the dog turned into a tiresome obligation” as his once cherished pet “faded into the background, like a wife that you continue to live with but stop noticing.” The story concludes on a bitter note, as Sentsov hints at his mother’s affair with a neighbor and confesses he “would never have thought it would be harder to bury my dog than my father.” “Childhood” breezily surveys his life from ages 5 to 14, a time when “ten years feel like nothing compared to that bell that will never ring!" And looking back on his beloved village from the vantage point of fifteen years of city life, he understands that “the places are the same and the people are supposedly the same, but everything is different.” Through these brief glimpses he’s managed to arrest that inevitable process, at least on the page.

An imprisoned Ukrainian dissident artfully unearths his past in stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-941920-87-9

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Deep Vellum

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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