It’s hard to believe, but Vargas Llosa just keeps getting better. What are the Swedes waiting for?

THE WAY TO PARADISE

With matchless empathy and insight, the great Peruvian author analyzes two contrasting quests for the ideal.

Dual narratives alternate the stories of two fascinating historical characters: early feminist social activist Flora Tristan (1803–44), of mixed Peruvian and French heritage, and her grandson (who never knew her), the great French rebel-painter Paul Gauguin (1848–1903). Employing both omniscient narration and a teasing, confrontational second-person address, Vargas Llosa (The Language of Passion, 2002, etc.) juxtaposes Flora’s pursuit (throughout a tour of southern France) of her vision of an international “Worker’s Union” with Gauguin’s flight from his Danish wife and five children (in the wake of the 1881 Paris stock market crash) to the South Seas islands, motivated by desires for artistic success and to submerge himself in a “pagan, happy culture, unashamed of the body and untainted by the decadent notion of sin.” This is a formidable, learned novel that embraces the conflicting opinions of social theorists (Fourier, Saint-Simon, Proudhon, et al.) with whom Flora does intellectual battle; 19th-century political history, and rival artistic theories and practices (expressed, e.g., in Gauguin’s memories of his combative friendship with “the mad Dutchman” Vincent van Gogh). It’s also a replete and lively story, whose assured construction and pacing very gradually reveal such crucial life patterns and details as Flora’s abandonment of her abusive husband and her children and discovery of sexual fulfillment with a sympathetic Polish demimondaine, and Gauguin’s aggressive grasp of liberation, awakening artistic consciousness, and exhausted surrender to the ravages of syphilis. It’s Gauguin’s conflicted odyssey that stimulates Vargas Llosa’s imagination most powerfully. But there isn’t a page of this magnificently imagined and orchestrated story that does not vibrate with the energy and mystery of felt, and fully comprehended, life.

It’s hard to believe, but Vargas Llosa just keeps getting better. What are the Swedes waiting for?

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-374-22803-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2003

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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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