Chinese poet and storywriter Wang (American Visa, 1994), based in the US since 1985, offers a vivid if overstuffed debut novel of life and love in Red China. Ni Bing has been different right from birth, different in ways that only increase as she grows older and must choose between being ``a Party member'' or a ``foreign devil''—that is, someone who associates with foreigners and has foreign ideas. By the time Ni Bing makes that choice, however, she has lost all her faith in Mao and the Party. As a child she saw her mother, a talented dancer and teacher, publicly humiliated during the Cultural Revolution; as a teenager, she innocently got a young man into trouble with the authorities; and to atone she worked long hours in the fields before going to a teacher's training college, the only place she was allowed to apply. There, she was made to guard a desperately ill teacher who was being forced to ``confess'' her political errors. These political memories alternate with memories, some frightening and initially inexplicable, of her childhood. Both her mother and her paternal grandmother were unusually demanding, and Ni Bing felt close only to her father, a naval officer. Then, at the teachers' college, she meets Van, an older student who seduces her, promising that they will live together in America; but though he helps her get into a proper university, he soon proves to be selfish and domineering. Events move at a dizzying and sometimes barely credible pace, as Van's American cousin promises, and delivers, her a place in a US college. The new China is a lot like the old, though, and before she can leave, Ni Bing (who seems at times more a symbol than a character) must endure bureaucratic obstruction and corruption that would deter all but the toughest. A litany of horrors faced down by a true-grit heroine, narrated in a fashion too hectic, cool, and distant to be affecting.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 1996

ISBN: 1-56689-048-9

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996

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


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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