An engaging autobiographical novel, really as much memoir as fiction, from the mandarin stylist renowned for both personal history (A Stroke of Genius, 1995, etc.) and zestfully inventive fiction (Terrestrials, 1997, etc.). West’s subject this time is his wife, poet and naturalist Diane Ackerman (herself a noted nonfiction writer); specifically, their romantic friendship throughout the 1970s when both taught at fictional “Coriolus” (surely Cornell) University, and formed a bond uniting their separate, then increasingly common explorations of the worlds of art and science. He waxes rhapsodic when devising the affectionate names “Swan” (for both her physical grace and her love of flight) and “Ariada Mencken” (a clever anagram for “Diane Ackerman”); impishly comparing them both to Dante’s Paolo and Francesca; and celebrating each’s penchant for (wonderfully awful) word coinages and puns—to wit: “Our oral lives (in the verbal domain, that is) have always been two interacting Niagaras, opaque and weird to overhearers.” Chronology is treated cavalierly, as West noodles agreeably on such topics as their fascination with astronomy (“Far from star-crossed, we were cosmic lovers”), his own admittedly eccentric writing habits and passion for foreign novels and Milton’s poetry, hers for close observation of the physical world and sedulous “conveyance” of what she learns to others. A book within a book in effect develops from accounts of their travels to (then) Cape Canaveral to observe Viking and Voyager liftoffs, shepherded by their pseudonymous colleague Raoul Bunsen (“an astronomical combination of Andre Breton and Salvador Dali”), who, we’re probably safe to guess, is a fictionalized Carl Sagan. The book tools along aimlessly, but never fails to entertain, while creating a rich illusion of intimacy with two gifted and fascinating people for whom curiosity is one of the highest human virtues. It’s probably something less than an authoritative dual biography. On the other hand, what a terrific Valentine’s Day present—for Diane Ackerman, and us.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 1999

ISBN: 0-684-84864-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1999

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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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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