An ambitious work of historical fiction hampered by uneven characterization.


A young woman’s artistic aspirations play out against the backdrop of late-19th-century Paris in this novel.

A few years after her father dies, Emma Dobbins, a young woman from California, decides to travel to Paris to pursue a career as a painter. Her father, a lighthouse keeper, raised her by himself. In flashbacks, readers get glimpses of life at the lighthouse. En route to Paris, Emma gets separated from her traveling companion, and when she reaches the city by train, she knows no one and doesn’t speak French. A young woman who works at the station takes pity on her and brings her home to live with her family. Emma gets a job cleaning the bathrooms at the station, but it’s not long before she gains access to the highest artistic and social circles of Paris. She enters an art school and begins modeling for a young and wealthy painter named Frederic Bazille. She encounters such artistic luminaries as Renoir, Monet, and Degas. She gets invitations to the ballet, dinners, and various salons. At a party, Sarah Bernhardt, the legendary stage actress, asks Emma, “What would you say about taking a balloon ride with me?” These interactions often feel forced and reveal the tale’s attempts to glean legitimacy from the artistic renown of its historical characters, including Bazille. Thompson (Their Golden Dreams, 2015, etc.) relies heavily on dialogue to convey exposition and emotion, but it is plain and overly earnest. Though the novel never strays from Emma, it has almost no access to her mind. In response to the unrest in France, she says, “I am not involved in what is going on. I am not French. This is not my concern.” Emma is lovely—few characters refrain from commenting on her looks—but beyond her beauty and drive, the protagonist is rather shallow. The richest aspect of the story is its gripping historical context, as the struggle between the French army and the National Guard tears Paris apart and points to more conflict to come: The Commune revolt looms on the horizon.

An ambitious work of historical fiction hampered by uneven characterization.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9797552-9-3

Page Count: 428

Publisher: Rincon Publishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2019

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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