A future biographer won’t be able to build much of a timeline of the events Modiano so evocatively describes, relics of a...

SLEEP OF MEMORY

A languid, novelistic portrait of the artist—winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 2014—as a young man.

“Those people you often wonder about, whose disappearance is shrouded in mystery, a mystery you’ll never be able to solve—you’d be surprised to learn that they simply changed neighborhoods.” So writes Modiano (So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood, 2015, etc.), a master of postwar noir, blending Alan Furst’s matter-of-fact cynicism with Camus-ian aphorism. Here, he reflects on the era when, not yet 20, it began to dawn on him that women are very interesting creatures and that not everything is as it seems. “In the winter of 1964, in one of those dawn cafés—as I called them—when any hope seems warranted as long as it was still dark, I would meet up with a certain Geneviève Dalame.” Geneviève is a woman of parts, into the occult, who knows odd things and people; she lives in a hotel, gets up even earlier than the dawn café–haunting Modiano, and isn’t above smuggling interesting things (e.g., the log of an Edith Piaf recording session) out of the office to show him. The time seems fraught with—well, if not danger, then certainly change. As the author observes, it was a time when an old world was drawing to an end and a new one was about to be born, in which people no longer lived in hotels and joined Gurdjieff study groups. Geneviève is not without her own dangers, including a junior-mobster brother who threatens Modiano. And so are other women, one of whom, "whose name I hesitate to write,” just happens to “accidentally” shoot a mobster. Half a century later, they are all memories receding into the past, with no madeleine but silence to recall them.

A future biographer won’t be able to build much of a timeline of the events Modiano so evocatively describes, relics of a world that no longer exists. An elegant work of suggestion and misdirection.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-300-23830-3

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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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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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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