Despite its determined lack of momentum: a mosaic as impressively enigmatic as its notorious subject.



British journalist/reviewer Skinner’s first novel is a teasingly inconclusive portrait of the celebrated dancer and alleged spy Mata Hari by those who ought to have known her best.

Margaretha Geertruide Zelle met Captain Rudolph MacLeod, according to Skinner, as a result of a joke one of his friends played on him advertising in his name for a wife to travel with him back to his East Indies posting. When MacLeod decided he could see the serious side of the joke, Gerda Zelle married him, followed him to Indonesia, and bore him two children. Later, his sudden abandonment of his wife left her stranded penniless, and she made her way to Paris, where she soon found work as an artist’s model, then, in the crucial turn of fortune that launched her career, as a dancer in the Musée Guimet. The prodigious success that followed Gerda’s reinvention as the exotic Eastern flower Mata Hari made her famous throughout Europe—and ripe for recruitment by the Berlin police as a the most famous seductress of WWI. Instead of demystifying his storied heroine, Skinner deepens the riddles surrounding her by unfolding her story from the viewpoints of her husband, the impresario Émile Guimet, the friend of Picasso’s who painted her portrait, her maid, a Russian officer who falls in love with her, a prison doctor, and a member of the firing squad that executed her in 1917. As if their disagreements weren’t kaleidoscopic enough, he intersperses the narrative with factual interchapters on gamelans, dowsing, lithography, Zeppelins, absinthe, and the Orient Express. The result is not so much a cubist portrait of Mata Hari as of the world she grew up in, passed through as a celebrity, and left behind as a convicted traitor, all without managing to leave a single overriding impression.

Despite its determined lack of momentum: a mosaic as impressively enigmatic as its notorious subject.

Pub Date: March 14, 2002

ISBN: 0-06-621366-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2002

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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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