Ultimately, a novel that is no more (or less) than words on the page.


A debut novel that never lets readers forget it’s a novel, toying with them on multiple levels.

The Mexican author (whose essay collection, Sidewalks, is being issued concurrently in the U.S.) revels in artifice while constructing a labyrinth where memory meets lies, dead literary figures live again, and the narrative spirals through decades and various voices. Early on, it appears to be written in the voice of a female writer, perhaps an authorial stand-in, with two children (known only as “the boy” and “the baby”) and a husband who keeps reading what his wife has written, wondering what is real and what isn’t. Is she cheating on him? With men, or women, or both? Or is he cheating on her? She works for a New York publisher where her job is to find “books by Latin American writers worth translating or re-issuing.” A book such as this one, perhaps. In the process, she becomes involved in the translation of an obscure poet (who becomes one of the novel’s narrators), realizing that “the way literary recognition works, at least to a degree [is] it’s all a matter of rumor, a rumor that multiplies like a virus until it becomes a collective affinity.” The female narrative voice eventually alternates with that of her husband, from whom she becomes divorced (or not), and often the only way to tell who is narrating is a reference to the other. The results are fragmentary, funny, sexy, exasperating and perhaps post-postmodern, as the novel attempts to illuminate how to read a novel, or at least this one. “A horizontal novel, told vertically,” it informs. “A novel that has to be told from the outside to be read from within.” Though, later, it’s a “vertical novel told horizontally. A story that has to be seen from below, like Manhattan from the subway.”

Ultimately, a novel that is no more (or less) than words on the page.

Pub Date: May 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-56689-354-1

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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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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