A vividly detailed rendering of a well-known tragedy.

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KATHERINE OF ARAGON, THE TRUE QUEEN

The familiar travails of Henry VIII’s beleaguered first wife.

The author of 14 biographies and 5 previous novels about the Tudors, Weir (The Lost Tudor Princess: The Life of Lady Margaret Douglas, 2016, etc.) brings considerable expertise to her fictional retelling of the life of Katherine of Aragon. Sent to England at the age of 16 to marry Arthur, the sickly eldest son of Henry VII, Katherine was a widow after 4 months—and, she claimed, a virgin. Henry VII did not know what to do with his Spanish daughter-in-law: after his wife died, he thought of marrying her. But she was repulsed: “I will be torn in pieces first,” she said. Much more appealing was Arthur’s brother Henry, who even as a boy of 10 had “undeniable charm.” Weir makes much of Katherine’s enduring sexual attraction for Henry, which lasted throughout their 25-year marriage despite Henry’s philandering and unspeakable cruelty to her after he took up with Anne Boleyn. Although the novel is well-populated with assorted members of Katherine’s and Henry’s court, the queen herself is the central focus. Weir portrays her sympathetically as both credulous and steely: she believed unwaveringly that Henry would return to her, even after he spurned the pope and established himself as head of the Church of England; even after he married Anne and bestowed upon her Katherine’s jewels; even after he beheaded formerly trusted supporters. “Nature wronged her in not making her a man,” Thomas Cromwell remarked about Katherine. “But for her sex, she would have surpassed all the heroes of history.” She adamantly refused to swear loyalty to Anne, maintaining until her death that she was the one true queen of England. Although figures closest to Katherine are fleshed out, others (Wolsey; “the great black spider Cromwell”; and even the spiteful Anne) remain shadowy.

A vividly detailed rendering of a well-known tragedy.

Pub Date: May 31, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-96648-8

Page Count: 624

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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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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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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