A moving, inventive and poetic work of biographical fiction.

TESLA

A PORTRAIT WITH MASKS

In his first novel translated into English, Pištalo recounts the tortured, fascinating life of Nikola Tesla, a familiar figure in pop culture and history.

This tale charts much of Tesla’s life: his fraught relationship with his father, his feud with Edison, his seclusion in old age. But Pištalo’s great achievement is to see beyond the familiar. Absent is the forbidding notion of the “great man” found in many biographies; with the freedom of fiction, Pištalo shows a fragile but driven individual, easily wounded, somewhat arrogant and tortured by memories of family trauma. Is poetic license taken occasionally? Absolutely. But this isn’t nonfiction. Instead, it has the scope of biography, the intimacy of fiction and the elegance of poetry. Pištalo’s fractured structure—with elliptical chapters—provides the sense of a life being lived in front of the reader, moment by moment. (This remains true despite some authorial intrusions, e.g., “At this point of the story, I have to gently but firmly take the reader by the arm….”) But finally, there is Tesla himself at the center, a figure from history who, here, seems appealingly modern—a man merely trying “to piece together some sort of meaning for his life.” Take, for instance, the early chapters, in which he leaves the comforts of the small village where he grew up to attend school in a big city. There, he has a college experience like any other: meeting combative and supportive professors, struggling with grades and too much partying, and spending long nights sharing new ideas with new friends. Surely many readers will recognize these experiences. This is the great empathetic work that fiction can do: taking a life from the past and making it relatable. 

A moving, inventive and poetic work of biographical fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-55597-697-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2014

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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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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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