A shuffling, to some degree, of all the same cards makes for a certain repetitiveness. But Jhabvala still outwrites many an...



Jhabvala (Shards of Memory, 1995, etc.) describes a life she could have lived but didn’t.

Backgrounded by the question What if?, each of the nine chapters here is a variant on Jhabvala’s actual life. The women who narrate were born in Germany to Jewish families, as Jhabvala was; before WWII, they immigrated to Britain, as she did, or to the US, and, like her, they share a preoccupation with India. Some chapters are more memorable than others. In the first and most accomplished, the narrator, now old and living on a reduced income, returns to India, where she can live more cheaply. She’d lived there as a young woman working on her dissertation, but her demanding family summoned her back to New York to care for them. In India again, she is comforted by the presence of many old women like herself, who have spent “ lives of unrequited longing.” In one chapter with a New York setting, the narrator has an affair with a refugee pianist whom her mother idolizes; in another, when an old Indian lover, though ailing and wanted by the police, comes to stay, the narrator ruefully observes that he’s still attractive to younger women. Money is a problem as properties must be sold and rooms let to fellow émigrés. A narrator often falls in love with a charismatic man with spiritual interests, whom she follows to, or meets up with in, India. Relationships never work out, and the narrators are observers of others’ happiness as their own eludes them. India, too, though revered, is often equally disappointing. None of these alternate lives is enviable, though each is interesting, peopled with such characters as a famous émigré artist down on his luck who sketches a narrator in her youth; and a notable Indian guru in whose mountain home another finds temporary fulfillment.

A shuffling, to some degree, of all the same cards makes for a certain repetitiveness. But Jhabvala still outwrites many an author.

Pub Date: June 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-59376-028-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Shoemaker & Hoard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2004

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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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