A pretentious lefty fairy tale of postwar New York by philosophe-novelist Schulman (Rat Bohemia, 1995, etc.), who tries—with a lot of cultural name-dropping and the usual references to Joseph McCarthy—to introduce us to an era and place that we have met many times already. Three characters, all poster pics for causes and opinions, tell the story, which begins in 1948 but often flits to the present: Sylvia Golubowsky (an aspiring newspaper reporter, the lesbian daughter of Jewish immigrants); Tammi Byfield (a black graduate student writing a thesis on her grandfather’s memoirs of the period); and Austin Van Cleeve (a viciously stereotyped, reactionary WASP gossip columnist). Times are bad for good lefties like Sylvia, who just wants to be an ace reporter on the New York paper where she starts off in the typing pool: Her parents won’t support her ambitions, her brother Lou (a political sellout) gets her dream job, and Austin (a tireless schemer and lecher) finally gets newspaper editor Jim O’Dwyer to fire all the Communists on his staff—including her. Meanwhile, Tammi learns from her grandfather Cal Byfield’s memoirs that he was briefly married to white jazz pianist and free-spirit Caroline, but because of racial prejudices of the time he couldn’t get his plays produced. Instead, he flipped hamburgers at a greasy spoon. Sylvia eventually has an affair with Caroline and makes a new life for herself in Vermont; Tammi learns to her relief that she does not have a white grandmother, since grandpa Cal divorced Caroline and married black, and she prepares at the end to fight injustice and learn from Cal’s suffering. Austin is dying at the story’s close, but he is still very rich and nasty and takes comfort that President Clinton has abolished welfare. Agitprop, pure and simple: The physical details of the period are nicely evoked, but the story itself is more a crude rant than a perceptive reprise of an era.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-380-97646-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1998

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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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