An ambitious look at a serious subject that promises much but, disappointingly, delivers little.


A first novel, Africa- and California-set, fails to engage as it tackles big themes—genocide, cultural difference, wartime love—in an affair between a Tutsi and an American activist.

At its heart, it’s a story that should bring out the hankies, as well as provoke serious thinking about the heavy hand of the past, revenge, and loyalty, but instead its narrative power is lost in often repetitive descriptions—no sunset or sexual encounter going unremarked. The protagonists, further, seem under-realized, especially the narrator, Anne, who for a seasoned activist is extraordinarily naïve. A Californian in her mid-30s, she has gone to Burundi to be an AIDS educator. It’s the early 1990s, and in the capital, Bujumbura (where the author lived from 1991–93), democratic government seems possible after years of postcolonial turmoil. When Anne, burned out by her AIDS work, joins Free Africa, an organization promoting democracy, she meets elegant and charismatic Jean-Pierre, a high-level Tutsi official. The two soon become lovers, and there is even talk of marriage. But Burundi’s long history of violence between the dominant Tutsis and the smaller Hutus, who traditionally have been treated as servants, comes to a head in 1993 as civil war breaks out. Amid brutal killings that are in fact genocide, women and children are deliberately not spared—and a horrified Anne realizes that Jean-Pierre is also participating in the mayhem. Though soon evacuated back to the US, she naively hopes that away from Burundi and its pressures, her love will endure. At Christmas, a somber Jean -Pierre comes to visit in California, where, haunted by images of violence and death, as well as by conflicting loyalties, the two try to reconnect.

An ambitious look at a serious subject that promises much but, disappointingly, delivers little.

Pub Date: April 16, 2002

ISBN: 0-385-50301-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2002

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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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