Imagine peering into the very heart of the mystical rose in Dante’s Paradise and finding the neon injunction: “TODAY IS THE...


A touching, if overexplicit, fable about learning to live in the face of death.

As he confides in an early chapter, Coelho himself (The Fifth Mountain, 1998, etc.) was apparently institutionalized simply because his adolescent behavior baffled his parents. Here, he returns to the world of mental hospitals indirectly via Veronika, a Ljubljana librarian who—tired of the fact that, at 24, she already finds every day like every other and can’t imagine any future but increasing boredom, decay, and death—takes an overdose of sleeping pills. She awakens in Villette, Slovenia’s notorious lunatic asylum, to learn that she’s damaged her heart irreparably and has only a week to live. Initially rebelling against her keepers’ solicitous rules and regulations (``I'm not here to preserve my life, but to lose it,” she reminds a nurse), she finds first her curiosity and then, gradually, her passions aroused by her fellow patients. Serbian Zedka Mendel, lacking a necessary brain chemical, endures megadoses of insulin that send her into comas. Mari, a lawyer who committed herself because she was suffering from panic attacks, has been asymptomatic for years but, divorced and forced into retirement, has nothing left to return to. Eduard, a “schizophrenic” whose case seems most like Coelho’s, is an ambassador’s son who ended up in Villette after rejecting a diplomatic career to paint. Regrettably, however, Coelho, preaching the need to live your own life in the face of death and social regimentation, can’t resist capping these often poignant stories with sanity-is-the-true-madness insights out of R.D. Laing and prosy homiletics (“It’s what you are, not what others make of you”) that seem to have been cribbed from a high-school health textbook.

Imagine peering into the very heart of the mystical rose in Dante’s Paradise and finding the neon injunction: “TODAY IS THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.”

Pub Date: May 7, 2000

ISBN: 0-06-019612-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

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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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