An earnest if also lethargic footnote to a footnote of history. (This is the first of Knauss’s five novels to be translated...

EVA’S COUSIN

Talk about 15 minutes of celebrity: here’s a novel based on German dramaturgy professor Knauss’s interviews with Gertrude Weisker, who spent the last several months of WWII with her cousin Eva Braun at Hitler’s mountain retreat.

Readers of the account will of course try to distinguish the made-up from what really happened to “Marlene.” At 20, she goes to stay with her lonely cousin Eva while Hitler is away pursuing the war. Though Marlene never actually meets the Führer, she does meet his henchmen Goring, Speer (who shows a brief but polite interest in the physics textbook Marlene is studying), et al. For over half the book, the young woman merely describes her life: the daily routine, her family, the way Hitler’s household was run. We learn that Marlene’s father was anti-Hitler, that Eva’s sister was married off to an SS higher-up, that Eva was totally devoted to her lover and oblivious of politics, accepting her status as mistress even though she yearned to be a wife, that Marlene listened secretly to radio reports from London, and—now—that she has carried into her old age a heavy, if largely secret, guilt about those months. The information is interesting (and avoids any taint of the self-serving), but it doesn’t coalesce into a real plot until the arrival of Mikhail. Having escaped from a work camp nearby, the 16-year-old happens into the teahouse, separate from the main building, where Marlene has been staying alone. The danger in Marlene’s decision to harbor a foreign escapee on Hitler’s turf is obvious to the point of melodrama (she takes an SS lover to maintain a cover). But the tale does spring briefly to a fictional life with the retelling of Mikhail’s imprisonment and escape, his survival instinct and emotional energy making a strong contrast with Marlene’s depressed if pretentious musings.

An earnest if also lethargic footnote to a footnote of history. (This is the first of Knauss’s five novels to be translated into English.)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-345-44905-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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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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