The downward spiral of these lives—everything that could go wrong does (even Ruby’s sewing machine is stolen)—becomes a bit...


A Pushcart Editor's Prize nominee traces three generations of a hard-luck African-American family striving for happiness and normalcy in Oakland, California.

As his title implies, Dry’s characters—seamstress Ruby Washington, her half-brother Easton, daughter Lida, and Lida’s two sons, Love and Li’l Pit—are in a state of near-constant flux. In the opening scene, Ruby and Easton arrive out west, in 1959, after coming by bus from their native South Carolina. The scene is reprised throughout and is echoed in the restless wanderings of the others: of Easton, a gifted artist drawn into the civil rights movement and a disappointing romance with a white colleague; of Lida, who lapses into drug-addiction and prostitution, devoured inside by the terrible secret of her uncle’s sexual abuse; of Love, whose violent childhood leaves him scarred as he struggles against social workers, “gangstas,” and an uncaring white world; and of Li’l Pit, a feral man-child bound either for prison or early death. Dry, who has a background working with emotionally disturbed children, is compelling in his depiction of this milieu. The family’s moral compass and center is the strong and devout Ruby, who maintains both the household through which the others drift and the living memories of the family’s rural origins. The narrative jumps abruptly back and forth in time—offering much black history along the way—although each chapter begins helpfully with the date and the present ages of the characters. Though he has a convincing feel for period and a seasoned eye for detail, Dry sometimes writes in a manner almost scriptlike as the story progresses through short, vivid scenes and sharp exchanges of dialogue.

The downward spiral of these lives—everything that could go wrong does (even Ruby’s sewing machine is stolen)—becomes a bit dizzying after 400 pages. But Leaving is rescued by the characters themselves, haunting and well-drawn. A strong debut.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-28331-8

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

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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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