A wrenching chronicle of time passing and opportunity lost.

CLARA CALLAN

The separate histories of two sisters are traced with understated compassion in this superb novel, the ninth from the Ontario author (Farthing’s Fortunes, 1976, etc.) and winner of Canada’s Giller Prize and Governor General’s Award.

A haunting epigraph from Rilke that asserts the dignity and value of unremarkable lives precedes the text, which is composed mostly of dairy entries penned by the eponymous Clara, an unmarried schoolteacher who remains in her rural hometown of Whitley (near Toronto), and the letters Clara exchanges with her “glamorous” sister Nora, who escapes Whitfield for New York City and a career starring in a popular radio soap opera, and also with cynical Evelyn Dowling, the irrepressibly mannish writer of Nora’s show, The House on Chestnut Street. Hardly ever raising his voice, Wright assembles a vivid picture of pre-WWII Canada (the story’s major events occur during the years 1934–38), when the Western world thrills to he phenomenon of the Dionne quintuplets and nervously observes the rise of fascism in far-off Europe. It’s as if the “progress” of the century ironically mocks that of Clara, who makes hesitant forays away from her stifling matrix—daring a brief trip abroad with the now-sophisticated Nora, enduring a frustrating not-quite-love affair with her “man” in Toronto, self-absorbed Frank Quinlan (a devastating characterization of the kind of superficially appealing male whom every woman eventually realizes she never really wanted), and consequentially encountering a menacing drifter that fulfills with a vengeance Clara’s fantasies of “adventure.” A terse afterword reveals the later fates of both sisters, incidentally explaining how their story came to be written. Though nobody seems to have noticed, Clara Callan is almost certainly modeled on Arnold Bennett’s classic 1908 novel, The Old Wives’ Tale—and is not much, if at all, inferior to that masterpiece.

A wrenching chronicle of time passing and opportunity lost.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-050606-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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