TWO LIVES

Trevor (Family Sins, etc.) provides genuine literary delight as well as book-buying value in this clever pairing of two novels under one title. The longer of the two, "Reading Turgenev," is also the more conventional—a somber tale of a woman who feigns madness in response to an oppressive "marriage of convenience." Mary Louise Dallon, the 21-year-old daughter of an impoverished Irish Protestant farmer, hopes to escape the boredom of country life by marrying "the only well-to-do Protestant for miles around." Elmer Quarry, almost twice Mary Louise's age, is a bald and paunchy tradesman who lives in town with his two mean and petty unmarried sisters. Not surprisingly, the marriage is doomed from the start, with Elmer unable to bring it to consummation and his sisters making daily life for Mary Louise a living hell. While kind and guilt-ridden Elmer retreats into the bottle, Mary Louise develops a wild passion for her sickly cousin who, on their secret trysts, reads her Russian novels. Their love remains chaste since the cousin dies suddenly, sending Mary Louise deeper into herself. Eventually, she's institutionalized, to be released decades later, all the while revisiting the scenes of her true love, the passages from Turgenev that stirred her soul. The narrator of "My House in Umbria" also escapes into literature—the formulaic romance novels she writes with much commercial success in her middle age. Her retreat from reality was occasioned by a life of hardship that's far more interesting than anything in her fiction. Sold at birth by her natural parents, her adoptive father began to abuse her sexually at an early age. Eventually, she becomes a prostitute in Africa, where she saves enough money to buy a villa in Italy and begin writing her books. Fate intrudes in a rude way when she survives an unclearly motivated bombing on an Italian train, undermining the serenity she found in writing. Vastly different in style and setting, the two stories converge thematically, testifying to the range of Trevor's talent and the singularity of his vision.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0140153721

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1991

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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