Bronsky's warmth, humor and sharp observational eye combine to make this coming-of-age tale a rich, affecting read.


A German teen learns the importance of friendship, family and forgiveness in Bronsky's third novel (The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, 2011, etc.).

After Marek is attacked by a Rottweiler, his disfigured face isn't the only thing giving pain to the formerly handsome teenager. Enrolled in a small "cripple" support group by his divorced mother, Claudia, Marek idles between disgust and contempt for his fellow group members, his mother, and society at large. The six-person group is led by a seemingly unscathed "guru" whose unusual practices, including encouraging the group to film each other for a documentary, cloak a secret. Then Marek receives news that his father, who remarried and fathered a young boy, has died in a mountain-climbing accident; the boy's journey to bury his father and spend time with his half brother and stepmother allows him to come at last to the core of his own humanity. There are no draggy sections thanks to the book's nimble pacing and funny, vivid imagery ("The guru closed his eyes. Then he opened them again and exhaled slowly, like a boy who has just accidentally climbed up to the ten-meter diving platform"). Bronsky's organic revelations, which often take place in the middle of a phone conversation or in the observation of a quiet moment, propel the story forward while catching the reader off guard. Although Marek is narrating, the reader gleans his true character from the flinches, winces and face punches he elicits from those around him. By exploring what happens when one’s public face is literally gone, Bronsky thoughtfully asks what constitutes one’s fundamental identity. The answer to this question informs the book's title: We are ultimately defined by the people in our lives and how we show our love for them.

Bronsky's warmth, humor and sharp observational eye combine to make this coming-of-age tale a rich, affecting read.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60945-229-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.


An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.


Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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