A raucous, anguished, fast-paced story, tautly written and deeply rooted.

THE BLACK CATHEDRAL

Award-winning Cuban writer and architect Gala links the fate of a community with the doomed construction of a cathedral in this dark, violent, often comic novel, his first to be translated into English.

The Stuart family's arrival in a rough part of Cienfuegos, Cuba, sparks the neighbors' interest: "If you're born black, you're already screwed; imagine if, in addition, you have to live in the squalid rooming houses of a neighborhood like this." Graffiti here in Punta Gotica reads "NO ONE GETS OUT OF THIS NEIGHBORHOOD ALIVE." The two Stuart sons are smart but odd, the beautiful daughter artistic. Their father, a religious zealot, is obsessed with building a cathedral. The architect hired to design it dreams of the city of the future, viewed from the back of an angel: "I saw the Cienfuegos of the future, a beautiful city, full of elegant buildings...the celestial Jerusalem." Events don't unfold that way, to say the least. Later the architect comes to believe "that it was called the Black Cathedral for those with darkness in their hearts." Told by a shifting, overlapping multitude of voices, the novel explores the interconnected lives of the local characters: kids, petty criminals, politicians, artists and writers, ghosts of people murdered by a serial killer, and the killer as well, speaking from death row. Though some move abroad, all find themselves affected by the violence and desperation of Punta Gotica and by its strange, unfinished building. As Arturo Stuart labors over "the first cathedral that is truly for and by the meek," one of his sons is initiated into the Cuban religion Palo, and the other finds work at a Russian mobster's brothel. The two sons eventually commit a terrible crime together (though worse crimes have already been done by an African Cuban character nicknamed Gringo). A retired principal of the Cienfuegos school laments of his former pupils, "They practically all turned out bad. Even the good ones aren't like we expected. I would call them the Black Cathedral generation." Trying to make sense of the Stuart boys' crime, one character says, "They were children, wicked children like all of us, children without a childhood."

A raucous, anguished, fast-paced story, tautly written and deeply rooted.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-11801-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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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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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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