Holy abstractions brightened by dollops of sex and violence.


Three novellas set in the author’s native Italy and connected by spiritual/religious themes of good and evil, love and redemption.

In the title story, Tamaro (Follow Your Heart, 1995, etc.) recounts a young girl’s downward slide after her mother’s death when the girl is eight. In her boarding school, she’s considered an orphan by the nuns until, several years later, a great-uncle and his wife become her guardians and she’s sent to visit them on her vacations. Unfortunately, unlike the kindly nuns, these relatives are cold and mercenary, their religion harsh. After various cruelties, the now-17-year-old drops out of school and works as a nanny for a teacher who treats her with real kindness and generosity. But the teacher’s husband takes advantage of her, then, to save face, accuses her of theft when she becomes pregnant. Having chosen to bear the child despite her unhappy past, she sits in the sun pondering good and evil. “Hell Does Not Exist” concerns a middle-aged woman whose recently deceased husband, a wealthy and educated man, showed a benevolent face to the world but was a viciously cruel husband and father. He despised his son Michelle for his sensitivity and his religious devotion; the story includes a long, almost unreadable letter from the saintly boy. After a violent argument, the man storms out of the house and, careening down the driveway in his car, accidentally strikes Michelle, killing him instantly. The woman can forgive neither him nor herself for her own weakness is staying married to such a man. The husband and father who narrates “The Burning Forest” killed his wife years earlier in an act of madness brought on by too much love when her growing independence (and religiosity) drove him toward a state of delusional paranoia. Redemption comes when his estranged daughter finally answers one of his letters.

Holy abstractions brightened by dollops of sex and violence.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-50351-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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