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VICTUS

THE FALL OF BARCELONA

With extraordinarily gut-wrenching descriptions of bayonets, bloodshed and battle, and the terrors and tribulations...

Imagining himself into the mind of a military engineer, Piñol (Pandora in the Congo, 2009, etc.) draws an epic tale from the 1714 Siege of Barcelona.

Martí Zuviría, a Barcelona merchant’s rambunctious son, is expelled from a French school and relegated to the tutelage of Sébastien Vauban, pre-eminent military engineer, to whom "battle was a rational sphere." After a rollicking, Tom Jones opening—Martí enjoys haystack romps with Vauban’s daughter Jeanne—Piñol offers an as-told-to bloody chronicle of Bourbons and Castilians warring against Catalonians. France wants puppet Phillip V as king of a united Spain; opposing allies want Austria’s Charles III on that throne. Fate places Martí at one of the "superb moments when life positions us in just the right place where morality and necessity converge," a perfect window for this minor historical figure to become Piñol’s jaundiced observer of The War of Two Crowns. Machiavellian maneuvering aside, other real-life personages engrave the novel: "Voltaire, that insufferable dandy;" Don Antonio de Villarroel Peláez, "a son of Castile, embodying all that was good about that harsh land, sacrificing himself for Barcelona"; and James Fitz-James Berwick, King James’ bastard, French marshal, boyish, buoyant, brilliant. Quixote-like, Martí seeks le Mystère, the mystical element at the legendary heart of military engineering, yet he’s constantly confronted by his blood-enemy, Verboom, "the Antwerp butcher." Add Nan, a dwarf who wears a funnel for a cap, and Afán, a wily homeless boy, plus a love story between Martí and Amelis, a beautiful prostitute. Martí, too late realizing le Mystère is but "[t]ruths whose only reward is lucidity itself," lives on, burdened by choices made amid carnage, telling his transcriber, "let my treachery drain onto the pages."

With extraordinarily gut-wrenching descriptions of bayonets, bloodshed and battle, and the terrors and tribulations inflicted upon besieged Barcelonians, Piñol makes real a tragedy that shaped Spain and Europe.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-232396-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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