RED GOLD

More masterful, richly atmospheric WWII spy fiction sends Furst’s despairing, dissolute, but delightfully resourceful film producer Jean Casson on yet another existential errand among the fiends and fanatics of the French Resistance. Having spied, loved, and lost in The World at Night (1996), Casson is spending the cold autumn of 1941 hiding out from the Gestapo in a sleazy Paris pensione, spending his dwindling pile of Vichy francs on sex and cigarettes. Fearing that his spiteful landlady may turn him in, he pawns his overcoat, falls in with a gang of makes a fortune selling a sack of stolen sugar, and loses everything at a decadent nightclub when he’s robbed and beaten by gendarmes who, instead of tossing him to the Nazis, convey him to his former intelligence commander, DeGrave, now a Vichy bureaucrat. DeGrave wants Casson to dig up a few of his left-leaning filmmaking cronies to provide liaison between a group of Vichy officers, eager to subvert the Nazi occupation, and a fanatical group of Communist terrorist fighters, whose reckless bloodlust is doing more harm than good. Casson, sunk in Gallic funk, accepts because—well, he—d rather sleep in a better hotel. The Communists, supervised by a fearsomely intelligent fatalist named Weiss, come across as a mixed bag of trembling adolescents, cocky Jews, and violent thugs. Alas, Weiss won—t take Casson seriously until Casson delivers to him a thousand machine guns, with ammunition. DeGrave agrees to finance the guns, and slyly gives Casson a reason to live by introducing him to Helene Shrieber, another wounded soul who beds him, then warily permits herself to fall in love. Despite the occasional history lecture, Furst’s intricate exploration of a stylishly lethal war-torn Paris never fails to fascinate. Witty, inventive, distinctively French film-noir espionage, told with the terse brutality and jaundiced romanticism of Chandler and Hammett at their peak.

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-679-45186-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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