Although he depends too heavily on aphorisms and plot switchbacks, Qiu Xiaolong follows in the tradition of Naguib Mahfouz,...


These 23 stories, first published in Le Monde, by Shanghai native Qiu Xiaolong (The Mao Case, 2009, etc.) follow China’s political evolution from 1949 to 2006 as it impacts the socio-economically diverse characters who reside on the Shanghai street of the title.

In 1949, with Mao’s forces approaching, a young man helps an opera singer escape Shanghai. In payment the singer gives him a portable blackboard on which he begins a newsletter for his neighbors. In the stories that follow, each year’s primary political event is recorded on the blackboard and followed by a personal if sometimes pointedly symbolic story that demonstrates the private upheavals determined by public policy. Food is a central motif. In 1952, a crab dinner takes on both erotic and political significance as the hosts, a young “workshop” owner and his wife, grow depressingly aware that their lives as capitalists are about to change. A man’s birth during the starvation years of land reform gives him a rapacious appetite but eventually leads to his success as a salesman who can dine with capitalist clients to gross excess in 2003. Another basic need, housing, also serves as both cause and effect. In 1988, an office worker marries to get an apartment. By 2000, a young entrepreneur buys the factory that his father once managed and plans to tear it down for a housing project. As the Communist Party switches directions economically, individuals submissively follow. In 1958, during “The Great Leap Forward” period, a tofu-maker works in a steel factory where he becomes a prominent worker poet. By 1996, worker poetry is out, private enterprise is in and he’s again selling tofu for his living. The final 2006 story concerns a lottery winner, chance being as good an explanation as any for these characters’ vicissitudes of fortune.

Although he depends too heavily on aphorisms and plot switchbacks, Qiu Xiaolong follows in the tradition of Naguib Mahfouz, writing about a changing world with both affection and a skeptic’s sense of irony. 

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-312-62809-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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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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