A dark wartime vision that evokes Koestler, Orwell, and Vonnegut.


At the tail end of World War II, a partisan soldier finds a quiet sanctuary that delivers a brutal lesson about humanity at its worst.

In his informative afterword to this slim but potent war story, Cees Nooteboom writes that Dutch author Hermans (1921-1995; Beyond Sleep, 2007) adopted the credo of “creative nihilism, aggressive pity, total misanthropy.” All of those dark moods are on full display here, but Hermans conjures them so subtly that the full force of his despair doesn’t arrive until the closing pages. The narrator is a Dutch soldier in an unnamed patch of Europe making a final push against the Nazis. Assigned by his sergeant to hunt for booby traps, he stumbles across a quiet town and an abandoned house, where he quickly makes his weary self comfortable; it is “the first time in a very long while that I had entered a real house, a genuine home.” His solitary domestic AWOL existence doesn’t last long, of course: German soldiers arrive, mistaking him for the house’s owner, and ask him to take in troops. That opens the question of how complicit in evil we are willing to be for the sake of a soft bed. Quite a bit, Hermans suggests: After the home’s owners emerge and his stay is threatened, the narrator is willing to kill to keep his perch: “If the whole world disappears, I won’t even notice as long as this house, this grass, and all the things I can see around me stay the same,” he selfishly opines. Hermans doesn’t deliver an explicit moral judgement on the narrator (indeed, he’s sweetly reasonable throughout), but the thundering violence of the closing pages sends its own message. Fire, a suicide attempt, torture, and hanging are all shadowed by men killing with a cynical, mocking cruelty, stressing Hermans’ point that dreams of peace can easily become entangled in violence.

A dark wartime vision that evokes Koestler, Orwell, and Vonnegut.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-939810-06-9

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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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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