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Alva & Irva: The Twins Who Saved a City Hardcover – March 1, 2003

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1st edition (March 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151007829
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151007820
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,781,845 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

English playwright Edward Carey's novel Alva & Irva is a spirited, inventive tale with a vein of half-ironic sadness running through it that brings to mind the works of other European masters of this genre, namely Günter Grass, Italio Calvino, and Milan Kundera. Named for twin girls who create a plasticine model of their small European city, Alva & Irva is in part the life story of these eccentric twins and also a guidebook to the fictional city of Entralla. Entralla is a place so like countless small, undistinguished cities in Europe (right down to its invented brush with history--a rumor that Napoleon had spent a night there) that one could probably use Alva & Irva as an actual guidebook, standing in any number of piazzas, plazas, and squares, and glancing around at the cafés, cathedrals, chapels, post offices, and municipal buildings. Sometimes Carey overreaches, and the quirks of his characters become merely cute. When he rises above this, his attention to detail and his playful prose are a delight. --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

In the spirit of his well-received first novel, the modern gothic Observatory Mansions, Carey crafts another fantastic tale, this one revolving around a pair of lonely identical twins. Alva and Irva live in the imaginary (vaguely Nordic) city of Entralla. Their father dies the same day they are born, and the twins are brought up by their reclusive mother. Inseparable from the beginning, they are also polar opposites: Alva, the novel's narrator, longs to see the world, and Irva, her silent twin, is content to stay home forever. When they are still very young, a gift of plasticine inspires them to build a model of their street; soon they are building an imaginary city, Alvairvalla. But then they grow older, and Alva craves independence, finally taking a job at the Entralla post office. Shut up in her room, Irva withdraws further, and Alva torments her by having herself tattooed all over with a map of the world. But in the end the tattoo haunts her and catapults her back into her sister's greedy embrace. Together, the two embark on their greatest plasticine project yet-a model of the whole city-little suspecting how useful it will become after disaster strikes Entralla. Structured around whimsical guidebook entries describing the landmarks of Entralla, and illustrated with photographs of buildings molded out of plasticine (Carey created his own two-by-three-foot model of the city), the novel casts a powerful if sometimes stifling spell. Carey is an enormously talented writer, but here the cleverness of his conceit tends to overshadow his characters, precipitating a slide into archness.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dick Johnson VINE VOICE on March 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Describing this book is similar to describing being a parent to someone who isn't. There are many words that can be used, but none of them are sufficient. The Amazon description above tells all you want to know of the story before reading it (maybe too much).

Poignant is the closest I can come to explaining the tone of the book, but all is not as sad as that term might suggest. The twin sisters are unbelievably well portrayed by Carey. Alva's the want-to-be worldly one and Irva is scared of and by the world. Their interactions with each other and with their (ficitonal) town make up the story.

I had to look more than once at the picture of the author on the jacket. I could have sworn most of the book was written by someone much older. That isn't an "-ism" of any kind; there are some things in this world that can usually be described only by someone of a certain age and experience. I was amazed that he was born in 1970. I was also surprised many times that he is a "he" and not a "she" in his presentation of the sisters.

There are some blanks left for the reader to fill in. Sometimes this doesn't work well in a book, but in this case it adds to the pleasure. Like his Observatory Mansions, it's all about the people. Please read this book. It is a one of a kind.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Moss on September 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a story of place. And it is one I found particularly touching. You will feel the same if you've ever walked aimlessly through a city's streets as you wondered what it would be like to live there, or - if you lived there - wondered what it would be to leave. Edward Carey has found the perfect metaphors for the alternate yearnings, to stay or go, in his characters Irva and Alva. But reducing them to symbols would be unfair. The warmth of Carey's writing prevents that. The real brilliance of his story, though, lies in how he manages to illuminate every emotional aspect of how we regard the places we are and may go, and he does so in such an unforced and natural way that we've hardly realized the depth of his contemplation by the book's end. His touch is light, but the feeling is strong.
The context of a guidebook for the unreal city of Entralla, complete with a street map and a recommended tour, frames the diary of Alva, the identical twin of Irva. As the twins grow up, they grow increasingly apart. Alva longs to travel and Irva turns inward. Alva's threat to leave her sister and their city plays out as the essential betrayal of anyone wanting to abandon their home. But Alva finds a reason to stay a while as she attempts to turn her sister from the retreat into herself, the smallest place there is. They take on the task of miniaturizing the city in plasticine; Alva documents the outside in photographs and measurements while Irva remains inside and sculpts. The tiny buildings "may not have been mathematically accurate, but they were, let there be no doubt about this, emotionally precise." It is emotional accuracy that matters.
"Miniature things move people.
Read more ›
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mandy on August 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Carey's first book, Observatory Mansions, already had me waiting on the edge of my seat for the next one. Alva & Irva did not let me down. His characters are once again lacking in sanity, and as the book progresses, so does this trait. I would say Alva and Irva is a little more solemn than Carey's first novel, but certainly a good read. The last portion had me talking out loud and murmuring, "Oh god. Oh my God. Oh no!" You don't believe the lengths the characters go to to secure themselves against their fears and angers until you are on to the next shock. I am certainly eager for Carey's third.
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Format: Hardcover
Alva and Irva Dapps, eccentric twin sisters, never had an easy life. Their father died the day they were born, when his scandalous malfeasance at the post office was abruptly discovered. Their mother was oddly reclusive. The girls themselves, strangely symbiotic, struggled with their sense of identity, and even more so, with their sense of place. And their city, Entralla, somewhere in--perhaps--Europe, is somehow symbolic of all places, all home-towns, and all sense of belonging. Somehow the twins become involved in making plasticine models of the buildings of Entralla, all the buildings, creating a gigantic model of the entire city. And somehow this comes to have cosmic importance, later, as certain tragic events take place.
The book is written alternately as a guidebook for tourists coming to Entralla, and as the memoir of Alva Dapps, the more outgoing of the two sisters. It comes complete with a detailed map, recommendations of where to stay and where to dine, which trolley bus to take to which destination; and the sad inner struggles of two odd and lonely girls who never belong anywhere.
Author Edward Carey is imaginative and insightful,but he doesn't always make things easy for his readers. Sometimes the account becomes almost too fanciful, too strained, even for the surreal medium in which he is working. The writing drags at times, especially in the travel guide sections. It was not easy for me to finish this book. However, it was certainly worth doing. Take the book for what it is, an extended meditation on the sense of place, an inquiry into what it means to belong--and you will find the book strangely moving and thought provoking. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
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