A sluggish novel that gives few indications of the extraordinary work to come.

THE THIRD REICH

From the acclaimed Chilean novelist (1953–2003), a recently discovered 1989 novel; this enigmatic look at power though the prism of war games is on a smaller scale than the two sprawling works that secured his reputation: The Savage Detectives (2007) and 2666 (2008). 

Udo Berger and his girlfriend Ingeborg, Germans in their 20s, arrive on Spain’s Costa Brava for their vacation. Life’s never been better, Udo confides in one of the diary entries that comprise the novel. War games are Udo’s passion, and he’s the German champion, a brilliant strategist moving armies across the board; he’s brought with him a World War II game, the eponymous Third Reich. (Udo’s no Nazi, despite his nostalgic love for German generals.) He and Ingeborg make friends with another German couple, Charly and Hanna; they go drinking and clubbing together. Charly is an aggressive boor who drowns while windsurfing, and a puzzling distraction from the core of the novel: the game and two unlikely opponents. Hanna and Ingeborg return to Germany; Udo has other fish to fry. He remains behind ostensibly to identify Charly’s body when it washes up (it does). But he also wants to romance the attractive hotel owner, and more importantly pursue his obsession with a mysterious, badly scarred guy known as El Quemado (the Burn Victim), who owns a pedal-boat business and sleeps on the beach. No one is sure of his background; South America? There’s even a suggestion he’s the re-incarnation of an Incan warrior. At first Udo idealizes him as a Noble Savage, but he’s plenty smart, a poetry lover. Udo teaches him the game; El Quemado catches on fast. Power shifts from the cocksure Udo to his humble opponent as the German crumbles, on the board and off. It’s an allegory, yes, but Bolaño casts around uncertainly for the best way to frame it, and juggles various endings.

A sluggish novel that gives few indications of the extraordinary work to come. 

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27562-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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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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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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