By no means a negligible book, but something of a disappointment coming from the gifted Grushin.


The line of the title serves as bold metaphor in this earnest successor to The Dream Life of Sukhanov (2006).

It’s a literal waiting line that forms outside a kiosk which, rumor has it, offers whatever the hopeful patrons who enter it each day, enduring numerous confusions and delays, most desire. Some declare that there are tickets on sale there, to a forthcoming concert at which émigré composer Igor Selinsky (a fictional surrogate for 20th-century master Stravinsky) will conduct a performance of his final symphony. This possibility excites the interest of Anna, a compassionate schoolteacher who wants the ticket for her frail, aged mother, a one-time famous ballerina; Anna’s husband Sergei, a devoted musician unhappily underemployed as a tuba player in a nondescript marching band; and their teenaged son Alexander, a budding pragmatist who plots ways of escaping from his family’s suffocating environment—a city much like Moscow, nearly 40 years after “the Change” (known historically as the Thaw) that promised Russian citizens increased freedom and opportunity. The combination of these elements produces a frustrating mixture: excessive recourse to scenes in which characters keep meeting in line, forming both fruitful and damaging new relationships, chagrined to realize they’re animals subjected to herding and confinement. This is balanced and ameliorated by sharp characterizations of the four principal characters, trenchant analysis of the extremes of behavior to which they’re driven, and powerful evocations of an imprisoning atmosphere that stifles all forms of creativity and self-expression. Virtually every time Grushin’s characters leave the line, connecting with their memories, their ambitions or their relationships with others, the novel quickens to life. Unfortunately, the image of the line usurps the reader’s concentration, forcing the author to keep re-establishing these people’s claims on our attention.

By no means a negligible book, but something of a disappointment coming from the gifted Grushin.

Pub Date: April 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-399-15616-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Marian Wood/Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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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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