An earnest and sober portrait of the homefront, filled a bit past capacity.

CEMENTVILLE

The arrival of dead soldiers from Vietnam in 1969 upturns and rewires the lives in a small Kentucky town.

As Livers’ debut novel opens, the reputation of Cementville (pop. 1,003) has shifted from its namesake cement factory to something much more visceral: The arrival of the bodies of seven National Guardsmen who were killed in a firefight. The tragedy has sent the town into public displays of mourning, though as Livers shifts the story’s perspective among a host of residents, more complicated emotions emerge. For Maria Louise, a young journalist who skipped town for the city years before, it means a return home and sudden romance with a member of the low-class Ferguson clan. For 13-year-old Maureen, it’s a revelation about her family’s capacity for secrets. For Harlan, a POW who lost a leg overseas, it means a hero’s welcome that's been overshadowed by a week’s worth of funerals. For Evelyn, the elderly head of the town’s wealthiest clan, it’s an opportunity to sourly recall years of Cementville shortcomings. (Though the novel turns on an act of benevolence on her part.) And so on, and so on: The chief flaw of the book is that’s it’s stuffed full of characters who are hard to differentiate, consistently possessed as they are of Livers’ eloquent if down-home voice. The episodic, character-sketch arrangement undercuts the central drama of the novel, involving the murder of the Vietnamese wife of another war vet. Livers means to explore the ways that perception and reality often fail to overlap in small-town life, and there are moments where the novel sings in that regard, particularly in one section where the supposed bad girl of the Ferguson clan finds a refuge in the home of an elderly resident. But the overall tone is curiously muted.

An earnest and sober portrait of the homefront, filled a bit past capacity.

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61902-243-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

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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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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