Occasionally stagy, but with characters worth exploring.

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BURNT UMBER

Soft historical fiction, by the author of Lost and Found (1980), offering an intimate though at times romanticized glimpse into artists’ lives.

Loosely based on the biographies of German painter Franz Marc and American artist Harold Paris (here called Harry Baer), the story traces real-life events, including two world wars and developments afterward, through the detail-oriented eyes of the dual protagonists. We first meet Harry escaping a German advance during WWII. Hiding in an old farmhouse, he finds the lost sketchbook of painter Franz Marc, who was a soldier for the Kaiser during WWI. The narrative then jumps back to 1909, showing Marc as he talks with Kandinsky about making things new, detailing Marc’s brief and unsuccessful marriage as well as his equally unsatisfying affair with a more worldly woman. Marc’s story and his life end in the trenches, which provide the backdrop for Greene’s fairly gripping portrait of war and battle. The story then returns to Harry Baer, who after the war relocates to Paris to become an artist. Following his life and successful career, the novel creates an image of a self-centered man given to braggadocio (not unlike Marc) to whom individuals count for less than the artist’s creative vision. After the death in childbirth of his French wife, Harry takes a teaching position at Berkeley, arriving with the beatniks and staying on to witness hippies protest the Vietnam War. He falls in love, has affairs, gains notoriety as both a womanizer and an artist to watch. The characters here can sometimes sound overly didactic, especially in the case of Marc: the artist may have expressed similar ideas when he proselytized for the Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter, but they make for stiff reading. Nevertheless, Greene creates an engaging vision of the life of art.

Occasionally stagy, but with characters worth exploring.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-9679520-1-8

Page Count: 282

Publisher: Leapfrog

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2001

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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