Reminiscent of one of those wonderful 19th-century doorstop novels.

LUMBERVILLE SEVEN

A story of coming-of-age, of nurturing and of the fact that it does indeed take a village to raise a child. Or to raise seven of them, for that matter.

Novelist Rosa (Reflections on a Stone, 2011, etc.) takes Lumberville, Penn., on the Delaware River, and peoples it with very memorable characters in the early 20th century. Angelo Giusto, though only 9, is the oldest of the seven orphaned Giustos who have been scattered from Brooklyn to orphanages far and wide. He plans to find all his siblings and make the family whole again. At the outset, he becomes the protector of a little African-American orphan boy, James Houston, who is picked on mercilessly. Fearless Angelo becomes James’ hero. Hearing that two of the Giusto brothers have been sent to Kansas, Angelo and James resolve to get there somehow and bring them back. But they get only as far as Lumberville, the village that welcomes and nurtures them. The main characters are Angelo and Penny Brown, a woman who has lost her only child and whose callow husband has run off. Penny, like Angelo, is tough, resourceful, and relentlessly optimistic. Civil War veteran and amputee Zeke Thompson comes out of a previous Rosa novel (Zeke Thompson, American Hero, 2011) to oversee the boys’ upbringing and is ably assisted by the ingenious and perceptive Frank Martin, a man with a mysterious past. Lumberville is an idyllic place, and the reader is reminded of Tom Sawyer’s Missouri village, or Mayberry, RFD. But there are real toads in this garden, and the good guys—just as protective of the children as Angelo is of James—find and root them out. Rosa is a gifted storyteller who makes hardly a misstep. And at 500 pages, she does not stint. An afterword tells us just who in Rosa’s real life inspired these characters. And for those who like a Dickensian sweep, the novel ends with a grand retrospective of what the Giusto kids, all grown up, have made of their lives as the midcentury nears.

Reminiscent of one of those wonderful 19th-century doorstop novels.

Pub Date: June 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-1453845790

Page Count: 518

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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Strangely stuffy and muted.

THE PERSONAL LIBRARIAN

The little-known story of the Black woman who supervised J. Pierpont Morgan’s storied library.

It's 1905, and financier J.P. Morgan is seeking a librarian for his burgeoning collection of rare books and classical and Renaissance artworks. Belle da Costa Greene, with her on-the-job training at Princeton University, seems the ideal candidate. But Belle has a secret: Born Belle Marion Greener, she is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard, and she's passing as White. Her mother, Genevieve, daughter of a prominent African American family in Washington, D.C., decided on moving to New York to live as White to expand her family’s opportunities. Richard, an early civil rights advocate, was so dismayed by Genevieve’s decision that he left the family. As Belle thrives in her new position, the main source of suspense is whether her secret will be discovered. But the stakes are low—history discloses that the career-ending exposure she feared never came. There are close calls. J.P. is incensed with her but not because of her race: She considered buying a Matisse. Anne Morgan, J.P.’s disgruntled daughter, insinuates that Belle has “tropical roots,” but Belle is perfectly capable of leveraging Anne’s own secrets against her. Leverage is a talent of Belle’s, and her ruthless negotiating prowess—not to mention her fashion sense and flirtatious mien—wins her grudging admiration and a certain notoriety in the all-White and male world of curators and dealers. Though instructive about both the Morgan collection and racial injustice, the book is exposition-laden and its dialogue is stilted—the characters, particularly Belle, tend to declaim rather than discuss. The real Belle left scant records, so the authors must flesh out her personal life, particularly her affair with Renaissance expert Bernard Berenson and the sexual tension between Belle and Morgan. But Belle’s mask of competence and confidence, so ably depicted, distances readers from her internal clashes, just as her veneer must have deterred close inquiry in real life.

Strangely stuffy and muted.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-10153-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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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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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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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