A Zola-esque naturalism is the strong suit of a novel that is more than just a period piece.

LIFE GOES ON

The first English language publication of this German author’s 1933 autobiographical first novel; Keilson (1909-2011) charts the slow decline of a shopkeeper in the Weimar Republic. 

Life has been an uphill struggle for Herr Seldersen, as he is called. He started out as a traveling salesman before setting up his clothing store. Then came the Great War. He survived unharmed, but the decorated veteran next had to deal with the nightmare of hyperinflation. In 1928, when the novel opens, the economy has steadied somewhat, but there are still challenges. His landlord and competitor has his eye on his store and pressures Seldersen to move into less-attractive premises. A good-hearted, unambitious man, he cherishes his small town in Prussia, eastern Germany, but peace and quiet are elusive for this German counterpart of Willy Loman. He is caught in a vise between his demanding suppliers and his impoverished customers, buying on credit. It’s death by a thousand cuts. There’s no disguising the situation from his wife or his 16-year-old son, Albrecht. The details about bills of exchange can get boring, but there is real pathos in his son’s attempt to console his father (“old, lost, hopeless”). Albrecht’s coming-of-age, and that of his best friend, Fritz, is the secondary storyline. Fritz is a free spirit, a high-school dropout with soaring ambitions who will be crushed by the lack of opportunity. The more restrained Albrecht, meanwhile, is strongly influenced by a young judge, who believes in the life of the mind. 

A Zola-esque naturalism is the strong suit of a novel that is more than just a period piece.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-374-19195-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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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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