Scandinavia hasn’t had a Nobel winner since 1974. This may be the book that earns Enquist the prize.


The historical novel has been reborn in recent years, and it reaches impressive new heights in this brilliant 1999 fiction from Swedish author Enquist (Captain Nemo’s Library, 1991, etc.).

Enquist’s subject is the royal court of Denmark during the 1760s, when the “madness” of inept young monarch Christian VII yielded unprecedented political power to his personal physician, the handsome and charismatic German intellectual Johann Friedrich Struensee. In an energetic expository style that features gradually intensifying rhetorical questions and repetitions, Enquist creates a patiently detailed portrayal of the teenaged king’s irreversible timidity, credulity, and paranoia. The focus then shifts to Christian’s reluctant bride, adolescent English Princess Caroline Mathilde (whose slow growth to adulthood nevertheless outpaces her husband’s); thence to Struense’s rise to ministerial status, institution of various liberal reforms (such as reducing the size of Denmark’s army), and adulterous possession of the now-wanton Queen (whose child he fathers). The manner in which Struense’s (ardent and genuine) “dream of the good society based on justice and reason” (based on the principles of the Enlightenment philosophers) is destroyed by his own weaknesses is delineated with masterly narrative skill, as are the marvelous extended climactic scenes where the Queen and her lover are exposed and detained, and the terrified Struensee is imprisoned, persuaded to reject his beliefs, and prepared for torture and execution. The absolute authority of the novel’s dramatized history is matched by Enquist’s potent characterizations of the gibbering, softhearted Christian; his impulsive consort and the conflicted Struensee; the aged Dowager Queen who plots to replace (her stepson) Christian with her retarded natural son; and, notably, the Machiavellian minister Guldberg, a dwarfish puritan who makes it his mission to protect a conservative society from the revolutionary attitudes of the European Enlightenment (“As in the Icelandic sagas, he had to defend the king’s honor”).

Scandinavia hasn’t had a Nobel winner since 1974. This may be the book that earns Enquist the prize.

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 2001

ISBN: 1-58567-196-7

Page Count: 314

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2001

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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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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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