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Margriet de Moor, Tessa De Loo, Arthur Japin, Renate Dorrestein—and now Oscar van den Boogard. Are there any more brilliant...

A destroyed family and an artfully concealed secret history are laid bare with near-surgical precision in this superbly constructed 1999 novel, the fifth (and first in English translation) by one of Holland’s most accomplished and respected writers.

It begins in 1973 with a heartstopping description of Inez Herman’s discovery of the body of her neighbors’ young daughter Vera Klein at the bottom of the Hermans’ swimming pool. Then, in present-tense narration, and rapid-fire sequences of brief declarative sentences, van den Boogard focuses on the grief of Vera’s mother Oda Klein, her withdrawal from her stricken husband Paul (a career army officer), and Paul’s later “escape” to a military post in Suriname, and his three-year separation from Oda. Then the narrative leaps ahead to 1980, Paul’s return home and muted reconciliation with the emotionally opaque Oda: a situation that’s complicated when Daisy—a 15-year-old American girl staying with the Hermans—becomes the Kleins’ houseguest, remaining with them after the Hermans’ house has been mostly destroyed by a mysterious fire; becoming, in effect, a replacement for the daughter Oda and Paul have lost. Van den Boogard tells this highly charged, haunting story in a series of crisp scenes that shuttle between present and past, reaching crisis points when the impulsive Daisy resists her hosts’ protective embrace, and in the revelatory climactic pages, when Paul’s fellow officer Emil (scarcely a presence until late in the book) becomes the missing piece to the puzzles of Paul’s depressive resignation and Oda’s “excruciating, inhuman, constant aloofness.” The continually shifting tone and texture are further enriched by sudden striking images (e.g., a bedroom window looks “like a cage suspended in the dark”) and deft, lightning-quick transitions among its several principal characters’ limited (indeed occluded) viewpoints.

Margriet de Moor, Tessa De Loo, Arthur Japin, Renate Dorrestein—and now Oscar van den Boogard. Are there any more brilliant Dutch novelists out there awaiting English translation? Stay tuned.

Pub Date: June 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-374-18585-9

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2001

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A masterpiece of craftsmanship that offers an unparalleled emotional experience. Send a copy to the Swedish Academy.

An ambitious scientific experiment wreaks horrendous toll in the Booker-winning British author’s disturbingly eloquent sixth novel (after When We Were Orphans, 2000).

Ishiguro’s narrator, identified only as Kath(y) H., speaks to us as a 31-year-old social worker of sorts, who’s completing her tenure as a “carer,” prior to becoming herself one of the “donors” whom she visits at various “recovery centers.” The setting is “England, late 1990s”—more than two decades after Kath was raised at a rural private school (Hailsham) whose students, all children of unspecified parentage, were sheltered, encouraged to develop their intellectual and especially artistic capabilities, and groomed to become donors. Visions of Brave New World and 1984 arise as Kath recalls in gradually and increasingly harrowing detail her friendships with fellow students Ruth and Tommy (the latter a sweet, though distractible boy prone to irrational temper tantrums), their “graduation” from Hailsham and years of comparative independence at a remote halfway house (the Cottages), the painful outcome of Ruth’s breakup with Tommy (whom Kath also loves), and the discovery the adult Kath and Tommy make when (while seeking a “deferral” from carer or donor status) they seek out Hailsham’s chastened “guardians” and receive confirmation of the limits long since placed on them. With perfect pacing and infinite subtlety, Ishiguro reveals exactly as much as we need to know about how efforts to regulate the future through genetic engineering create, control, then emotionlessly destroy very real, very human lives—without ever showing us the faces of the culpable, who have “tried to convince themselves. . . . That you were less than human, so it didn’t matter.” That this stunningly brilliant fiction echoes Caryl Churchill’s superb play A Number and Margaret Atwood’s celebrated dystopian novels in no way diminishes its originality and power.

A masterpiece of craftsmanship that offers an unparalleled emotional experience. Send a copy to the Swedish Academy.

Pub Date: April 11, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4339-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2005

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"This soil," concludes the young narrator of this quiet chronicle of garrotted innocence, "is bad for all kinds of flowers. Certain seeds it will not nurture, certain fruit it will not bear." And among the exclusions of white rural Ohio, echoed by black respectability, is ugly, black, loveless, twelve-year-old Pecola. But in a world where blue-eyed gifts are clucked over and admired, and the Pecolas are simply not seen, there is always the possibility of the dream and wish—for blue eyes. Born of a mother who adjusted her life to the clarity and serenity of white households and "acquired virtues that were easy to maintain" and a father, Cholly, stunted by early rejections and humiliations, Pecola just might have been loved—for in raping his daughter Cholly did at least touch her. But "Love is never better than the lover," and with the death of her baby, the child herself, accepting absolutely the gift of blue eyes from a faith healer (whose perverse interest in little girls does not preclude understanding), inches over into madness. A skillful understated tribute to the fall of a sparrow for whose small tragedy there was no watching eye.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 1970

ISBN: 0375411550

Page Count: -

Publisher: Holt Rinehart & Winston

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1970

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