Foulds writes like no one else; while individual scenes are rendered with poetic simplicity, they fit together into an...

IN THE WOLF'S MOUTH

The title of Foulds’ latest (The Quickening Maze, 2010, etc.) refers to an Italian good-luck saying tinged with fear, a fitting reference to the interconnected fates of three World War II soldiers—one British and two Italian-American—after the liberation of Sicily.

British enlistee Will, the university-educated son of a schoolmaster in a rural English village, is disappointed to be assigned, not to the battlefield, but to Field Security Services. Doing mop-up work, first in North Africa and then Sicily, he proves better qualified than the officers above him, but his suggestions are generally, sometimes disastrously, ignored. Ray, a sensitive working-class kid from New York with dreams of writing screenplays, experiences the surrealist horror of battle in North Africa, where most of his company is killed. Because he speaks some Italian, he's then sent to Sicily, where he watches a new friend get blown to pieces after stepping on a land mine. Shellshocked, Ray wanders into the palace of the prince of Sant’Attilio, where the prince’s lonely daughter, Luisa, hides him as she nurses him back to health. Also stationed in Sant’Attilio is Albanese, a petty New York mobster the Americans enlisted for his Italian and general knowledge of Sicily, where he was born. The English are clueless in sorting out the sociology of the Sicilian town, but Will’s instinctive qualms about Albanese, whom he meets briefly on several occasions, are all too correct. When Albanese escaped Sant’Attilio in a casket almost 20 years earlier, he left behind a young wife and a profitable position working as the prince’s representative (while cheating him on the side). In Albanese’s absence, his wife remarried, and the prince gave his job and his house to one of his former shepherds. Now Albanese will go to any length to get back his wife and his home.  

Foulds writes like no one else; while individual scenes are rendered with poetic simplicity, they fit together into an elliptical, complex plot readers will puzzle over long after finishing this novel.

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-374-17582-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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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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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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