A very slim, very French novella about conspiracy, coincidence and mortality.

Celebrated in his native France for his category-defying fiction that encompasses mystery, sci-fi, fantasy and philosophy, Belletto (Dying, 2010, etc.) receives only his third English translation with a narrative that the foreword by Stacey Levin describes as “a strange jewel,” “a work that hovers mysteriously between reality and artifice, natural and supernatural,” and “a puzzle.” It opens provocatively enough: “It is to me that we owe our immortality, and this is the story that proves it beyond all doubt.” Such proof, which involves a dictionary, doesn’t come until the novel’s very end. Before then is the first-person narrative of a man whose wife has been murdered, leaving him with a 6-year-old daughter whom he loves as his entire world. The daughter’s name is Anna, the wife was named Maria and the narrator goes unnamed, though one character refers to him as “my dear X.” The narrator lets his daughter visit with her maternal grandparents, who suspect him of having killed their daughter (and may have mixed feelings toward their granddaughter as a result). Another subplot involves a type of perpetual-motion machine, developed by the narrator’s father, which can only sustain its momentum for 24 hours. “Nothing perpetual, alas, except inertia,” says the narrator. The novel pivots on the discovery of some frozen clams in the narrator’s refrigerator, triggering his suspicion because he doesn’t know the brand and doesn’t like clams. As he starts to play amateur detective, one revelation leads to another, and the narrator finds himself at the birthday party of an old school friend, where he connects with a beautiful woman, whom nobody seems to know, and ultimately reunites with the friend’s sister, who wasn’t at the party. More mystery ensues, through what the narrator describes as a "series of coincidences and misunderstandings,” though admitting that “it was as if my mind were that of an insane person, closed to the outside world.” Fans of Paul Auster’s brand of literary gamesmanship will recognize a kindred spirit here.


Pub Date: March 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8032-2441-4

Page Count: 88

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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