A heartbreaking tale and a singular achievement.

GIRL

In a feat of empathy and imagination, the Irish writer O'Brien portrays one girl’s torments after she is taken by jihadis in Nigeria.

Opening with a nighttime raid that recalls Boko Haram’s 2014 abduction of schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria, O’Brien (The Little Red Chairs, 2015, etc.) lets one victim, named Maryam, tell her story. In a jungle camp, their captors bombard the girls with prayers, edicts, and hatred. The militants rape them repeatedly. In the Blue House, there is “a long corridor with cubicles leading off it and in each one an iron bed and a naked bulb dangling down.” The prettiest girls are sold to wealthy men in Arabia. Others are given as brides to men who excel in battle. Such is Maryam’s lot, and when she has a baby, it’s suddenly clear how long her ordeal has been. Then, only 60 pages in, she escapes. But O’Brien withholds hope, opening her heroine’s world to new perils and despair. Maryam endures starvation and a friend’s death on a jungle trek with her baby that fuels tension as recapture seems inevitable. She even abandons her Babby, but some women from a herding community find and return her. They share their village and rich culture with Maryam. There she realizes her presence as a jihadi’s wife is a threat to her hosts. Reunited with her mother and feted by the government, Maryam learns of the stigma attached to a jihadi wife’s child and she is separated from Babby. Throughout the post-escape narrative, O’Brien uses every opportunity to insert songs, tales, myths, and rituals of the country, deeply enriching a story and a character that were already memorable. She also brings to the fore the complex relations and supportive roles of women in a novel largely blighted by males. Long associated with Ireland, O’Brien might spark questions of cultural appropriation with this excursion to Africa. But she has always dealt with women’s oppression as her thematic palette has expanded over the years, with her previous novel combining Balkan war crimes and the global refugee crisis.

A heartbreaking tale and a singular achievement.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-16255-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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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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