An artful deconstruction of nationalism through the prism of personal loss and reconciliation. Read Jacobsen's novel...

BORDERS

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, a son named Robert is born to Maria, a Belgian teacher and nurse, in the Ardennes, a borderland region spanning Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Germany.

That tale opens Jacobsen’s (Child Wonder, 2011, etc.) latest, but it’s one of multiple stories weaving through multiple lives in a narrative moving fitfully from wartime Luxembourg to Stalingrad’s slaughter and then on to the 1960s. No individual character drives this novel. Instead, there are a handful of principals whose lives intersect like forgotten trails in the Ardennes wilderness. Maria, nursing Allied wounded during the Battle of the Bulge, falls in love with a shellshocked American soldier, but he later disappears without realizing she’s pregnant. Robert, her son, grows to love and rely upon his godfather, Markus. Despite being of "ambivalent nationality," Markus had followed his fascist son into Germany’s Wehrmacht, where he was wounded and temporarily rendered sightless on the eastern front. Back home, obsessed by his son’s disappearance at Stalingrad, he chooses to live as a blind man. Another affecting character is Léon, drafted by the Nazis, fractured by the war. Held prisoner first by the Nazis and then by the Allies, he came home with a "permanently vacant smile." Historical characters appear too, like German generals Manstein and Paulus, those two sketched insightfully. The novel is replete with metaphor and parable, Jacobsen even using his setting symbolically: there's the River Our, a natural bridge across national boundaries and the impenetrable Ardennes, never fully revealing itself or the brutality it conceals. Jacobsen analyzes the nature of fiction and nonfiction; delineates the psychological parameters—borders—within which we live as individuals; and, while referencing tiny Luxembourg at Europe’s core, reveals the inevitable conflicts that arise when humankind imposes artificial distinctions.

An artful deconstruction of nationalism through the prism of personal loss and reconciliation. Read Jacobsen's novel carefully to savor its images and themes.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-55597-755-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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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