A SAFE CONDUCT

Britisher Vansittart (A Choice of Murder, 1993) enhances his impressive achievement of 20-odd novels and children's books with this erudite and mannered—if dispassionate—tale of a famous children's revolt in late-15th-century Germany. In the long shadow of the Graf's castle on Broken Mountain, careworn villagers eke out their brutish, short lives. Among them is the much-maligned young Hans, a slow-witted shepherd animated only when playing his pipe, telling one of his mystical stories, or basking in the presence of the dazzling, mysterious Albrecht. Effortlessly influencing all the children, not Hans alone, this lad carries himself like one of the highborn yet has no apparent family. When the Graf—himself a man of mystery believed to have starved his noncompliant wife to death—raises taxes to cover his crushing debt, Albrecht seizes the moment to foment rebellion, first inciting the children to burn an ancient community barn, then setting up a fortified camp on the grounds, to which the disgruntled and dispossessed flock from afar with families and weapons. Shepherd Hans, recently elected king of the annual spring rites, becomes the titular head, the real power still residing with Albrecht. As summer waxes and wanes, the Graf's troops are rebuffed and humiliated, until the Graf sends an offer for a parley at the castle with rebel leaders. Hans accepts, going alone, and is quickly hanged by the Graf despite his promise of safe conduct. With the piper's death and Albrecht's defection (as it happens, he's the Graf's bastard and sole heir), the rebellion collapses and the rebels flee, but the Graf finds himself ridiculed at court for breaking his word. Not a heart-pounding vision of class struggle in the Middle Ages, but in its own subtle way this evokes the historical moment and more, with a timeless portrait of cruel manipulation and power corrupted.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 1996

ISBN: 0-7206-0953-4

Page Count: 184

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1995

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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