Well-written though oft-told, and interrupted much too often by a confused spirituality.


Jan Campbell is an excellent student and devoted churchgoer—until she scandalizes the Baptist congregation by saying “nobody should hold a child back from God. . . .”

Aunt Ada agrees in principle, though she’s never uttered more than a quiet amen in church. Jan loves to listen to Ada’s stories of life in rural Mississippi, before the family migrated to the mostly black Chicago suburb they live in now. Her father Charles, a plainspoken dirt farmer down south, isn’t quite good enough for her mother Jessie, who used to work as a hired glamour girl, distracting the marks in a cardsharp’s traveling game. None of this makes much sense to Jan, who listens for answers in the bittersweet lyrics of jazz singers and grows up wondering about the mysteries of life—and love. Her first lover is Don Obatunde, who grew up in the projects with his heroin-addict mother, turned to crime at a young age, and became a sculptor in jail. Upon his release, wealthy white women helped get his work into galleries and shows, and Don showed his thanks by bedding them all. When Jan discovers that he’s involved with another woman, she thinks how nice it would be if she could commune with the family spirits. Her long-dead grandmother Hannah is waiting, but Jan can’t hear her words of advice (yet). Though Hannah’s “earth time” is over, her spirit moves freely between this world and the Hereafter, offering wise counsel in a woo-woo language that doesn’t sound like anything from Mississippi (it’s noted that Hannah is part Cherokee, as if to explain the cryptic comments). Eventually, Jan lands a great job at a jazz station, and, having gotten a new love, responsible Phil, figures out that the voice she hears in her head doesn’t mean she’s crazy—just communing with family ghosts.

Well-written though oft-told, and interrupted much too often by a confused spirituality.

Pub Date: March 19, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-75809-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 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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