A humane, optimistic tale most eloquently told.


“Do you know why God created us? So we could tell one another stories.” Novelist, memoirist and folklorist Wiesel (Wise Men and Their Tales, 2003, etc.) blends fiction, legend and perhaps reminiscence in a moving tale of a fast-disappearing time.

Gamaliel Friedman is a lover of stories, a habit he acquired young from his father, who “used to say that a man without a story is poorer than the poorest of men.” Friedman knows all about being poor; displaced from his native Czechoslovakia by the Nazi annexation, he spent his early years in hiding, depending on the kindness of a Hungarian woman for survival. Fleeing Hungary after the 1956 uprising, he arrives in America and begins to trade in new stories, and in two ways. First, he becomes a ghostwriter, an accidental trade that allows him the wherewithal to work on his own “Secret Book”; the “sorry collections of clichés that he ground out as a writer for hire were of no further interest to him,” Wiesel writes, so long as the checks arrived. Second, he begins to collect the tales told by his circle of friends, many of them veterans of the Spanish Civil War and WWII, who, having come to the gates of the new millennium, provocatively call themselves the “Elders of Zion.” Among others, there are Bolek, “sometimes taciturn, sometimes blustering,” and Diego, an anarchist who speaks Lithuanian-tinged Yiddish, and regretful Yasha, all of them lovers of stories who live in a world whose tales sometimes cannot be told—for some of them have survived horrors that resist description. Yet “God is not silent,” says a rabbi in one piece. “It is by His silence that He calls to you. Are you answering him?” Each moment here is an answer of sorts, as Friedman comes to the side of a desperately ill woman who just may be the one who saved him all those years ago.

A humane, optimistic tale most eloquently told.

Pub Date: Aug. 16, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4172-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2005

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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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A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.


The story of the entangled affairs of a group of exceedingly smart and self-possessed creative types.

Frances, an aloof and intelligent 21-year-old living in Dublin, is an aspiring poet and communist. She performs her spoken-word pieces with her best friend and ex-lover, Bobbi, who is equally intellectual but gregarious where Frances is shy and composed where Frances is awkward. When Melissa, a notable writer and photographer, approaches the pair to offer to do a profile of them, they accept excitedly. While Bobbi is taken with Melissa, Frances becomes infatuated by her life—her success, her beautiful home, her actor husband, Nick. Nick is handsome and mysterious and, it turns out, returns Frances’ attraction. Although he can sometimes be withholding of his affection (he struggles with depression), they begin a passionate affair. Frances and Nick’s relationship makes difficult the already tense (for its intensity) relationship between Frances and Bobbi. In the midst of this complicated dynamic, Frances is also managing endometriosis and neglectful parents—an abusive, alcoholic father and complicit mother. As a narrator, Frances describes all these complex fragments in an ethereal and thoughtful but self-loathing way. Rooney captures the mood and voice of contemporary women and their interpersonal connections and concerns without being remotely predictable. In her debut novel, she deftly illustrates psychology’s first lesson: that everyone is doomed to repeat their patterns.

A clever and current book about a complicated woman and her romantic relationships.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49905-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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