Longer on wisdom than either surprise or delight, this will mainly interest readers who have been captivated by Keilson’s...

COMEDY IN A MINOR KEY

The first American publication of this 1947 novella accompanies the reissue of the German author’s The Death of the Adversary.

When the latter novel was translated for American publication in 1962, it received considerable acclaim for its illumination of emotional ambiguity during the rise to power of an unnamed Hitler. This shorter, slighter work by Keilson, a psychoanalyst who fled to the Netherlands in 1936 (and celebrated his 100th birthday last year), shares certain qualities with his masterwork, in its depiction of everyday detail and ritual against a backdrop—largely offstage—of unthinkable evil. Yet this is plainly minor work in comparison, not nearly as provocative nor as psychologically acute. A Dutch couple harbors a refugee for a year, keeping his existence as much of a secret as they can. Yet Nico, their secret upstairs housemate, may have some secrets of his own that he’s keeping from them. The dynamic among them shifts subtly over the year that he spends with them: “It stood like a wall between him and them, which slowly, slowly crumbled as the war dragged on and everything out of the ordinary and inhuman became typical and everyday.” One of the things that changes is the state of Nico’s health, which threatens to compromise the secret of his existence, and which ultimately results in a role reversal that represents whatever comedy there might be in this mirthless narrative. “He had defended himself against death from without, and then it had carried him off from within,” writes the author. “It was like a comedy where you expect the hero to emerge onstage, bringing resolution, from the right. And out he comes from the left...Later, though, the audience members go home surprised, delighted, and a little bit wiser for the experience.”

Longer on wisdom than either surprise or delight, this will mainly interest readers who have been captivated by Keilson’s better work.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-374-12675-9

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2010

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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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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

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.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS

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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