A satisfying saga of the late Habsburg period.

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SISI

EMPRESS ON HER OWN

Second and final installment of Pataki’s sympathetic fictional biography of Austro-Hungarian Empress Sisi.

When we last left Sisi, in the first volume, she was rebelling against the strictures of her life at the Viennese court as the consort of Emperor Franz Joseph. In particular, she was defying her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie, who had not only exacerbated Sisi’s estrangement from Franz, but appropriated the upbringing of her three children. Sisi embarks on a lifelong strategy for escaping the pressures of noblesse oblige: traveling. After going to Corfu to recuperate from a depression, she heads for the family estate in Hungary, where she can spend time horseback riding and enjoying the attentions of Count Andrássy, the former rebel who helped consolidate the two kingdoms. She gives birth to Valerie, the only child who will be raised free of Sophie’s interference, rumored by many to be Andrássy’s child. Too soon, however, duty calls and Sisi must return to court. After rescuing her son, Crown Prince Rudolf, from an abusive tutor, Sisi learns, as Sophie is on her deathbed, that the dragon lady meant well all the while. After enduring an interminable summer hosting other royals at the 1873 Viennese World Fair, Sisi is invited to England by the Earl of Spencer (ancestor of Princess Diana) to hone her fox hunting skills. While galloping over hill and dale she falls in love again, this time with dashing sportsman Bay Middleton, her only equal in horsemanship. Along the way we meet her deranged cousin King Ludwig of Bavaria, who bankrupts his kingdom building surreal castles and supporting his great love, Richard Wagner. Since this is a historical novel that strives for fidelity to the facts, Pataki draws a veil of privacy over Sisi’s rumored, but never definitively proven, infidelities. On the other hand, no such reticence downplays Franz’s rigidity or Prince Rudolf’s self-destructiveness.

A satisfying saga of the late Habsburg period.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8905-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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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