Ruge takes full advantage of the varying viewpoints to display, impressively, the density of family life, but a thematic...

IN TIMES OF FADING LIGHT

A multifaceted look at four generations of an East German family with roots in the Communist Party; this debut was a commercial and literary success in the German author’s homeland.  

The action moves back and forth over 50 years, beginning in 1952, but the central event, witnessed by six different viewpoint characters, occurs in 1989, shortly before the Berlin Wall comes down. The occasion is the 90th birthday party of Wilhelm, the patriarch, an unrepentant Stalinist and Party bigwig. Family members present include Charlotte, his imperious, mean-spirited wife, and his stepson Kurt, a respected Party historian and timid reformer. Conspicuously absent are Kurt’s Russian wife and his rebellious son Alexander, who that day has fled to the West. Though ideology is a crucial element of the novel, first and foremost come the domestic concerns that affect any family. Thus, the climax of Wilhelm’s party will not be his receiving one more Party honor, nor the news of Alexander’s defection, carefully concealed by Kurt, but the collapse of the old folks’ dining table, inexpertly assembled by Wilhelm, whose powers are failing. And it is typical of the oblique narration that you might even miss the act that ends his life that same day. Mysteries abound. We first meet Wilhelm and Charlotte in Mexico, refugees from Nazism, ending their 12-yearslong exile. Has Wilhelm been a secret agent for the Soviets? The possibility dangles. Why is there just one tiny reference to Charlotte’s first husband, the father of her sons? Those sons were sent to the gulag after Kurt’s veiled criticism of Stalin in a private letter to his brother. Kurt did 10 years; his brother was murdered, circumstances undisclosed. Most important, how did Kurt keep his faith in communism after his ordeal? A case of self-deception? His son Alexander believes “everything is deception.” It’s a grand theme, but it’s left undeveloped.

Ruge takes full advantage of the varying viewpoints to display, impressively, the density of family life, but a thematic cohesion is lacking.

Pub Date: June 11, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-55597-643-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy,...

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

Britisher Haddon debuts in the adult novel with the bittersweet tale of a 15-year-old autistic who’s also a math genius.

Christopher Boone has had some bad knocks: his mother has died (well, she went to the hospital and never came back), and soon after he found a neighbor’s dog on the front lawn, slain by a garden fork stuck through it. A teacher said that he should write something that he “would like to read himself”—and so he embarks on this book, a murder mystery that will reveal who killed Mrs. Shears’s dog. First off, though, is a night in jail for hitting the policeman who questions him about the dog (the cop made the mistake of grabbing the boy by the arm when he can’t stand to be touched—any more than he can stand the colors yellow or brown, or not knowing what’s going to happen next). Christopher’s father bails him out but forbids his doing any more “detecting” about the dog-murder. When Christopher disobeys (and writes about it in his book), a fight ensues and his father confiscates the book. In time, detective-Christopher finds it, along with certain other clues that reveal a very great deal indeed about his mother’s “death,” his father’s own part in it—and the murder of the dog. Calming himself by doing roots, cubes, prime numbers, and math problems in his head, Christopher runs away, braves a train-ride to London, and finds—his mother. How can this be? Read and see. Neither parent, if truth be told, is the least bit prepossessing or more than a cutout. Christopher, though, with pet rat Toby in his pocket and advanced “maths” in his head, is another matter indeed, and readers will cheer when, way precociously, he takes his A-level maths and does brilliantly.

A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy, moving, and likely to be a smash.

Pub Date: June 17, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50945-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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