A worthy but, finally, stultifying novel.

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WHERE THE LIGHT FALLS

The Pataki siblings’ chronicle of the French Revolution charts the impact of the Terror on two Frenchmen of disparate backgrounds.

This novel covers the period from 1792 to 1804, beginning just as the order is given to execute Louis XVI by guillotine. Two characters alternate points of view. Capt. André Valiere is a former aristocrat whose last name used to begin with de. (His father was guillotined in the prologue.) Only his army career has saved him from the rabble’s wrath, particularly since his detachment, fighting under another ex-aristo, Gen. Kellermann, foiled an attempted invasion by Prussian and Austrian forces aimed at stopping the revolution. Soon, though, Gen. Kellermann is on trial for making remarks interpreted as pro-royalist. Jean-Luc is a young idealistic attorney who moved with his wife from a pleasant rural existence near Marseille to Paris, hoping to contribute to the revolution. Employed as an underpaid functionary in a ministry which inventories the confiscated possessions of the nobility, Jean-Luc has a chance to advance when Lazare, a powerful confidant of Robespierre, offers his patronage. However, Jean-Luc’s conscience compels him to defend the rights of man, including free speech, by representing Kellermann at his trial, thus incurring the lasting enmity of Lazare, Kellermann’s prosecutor. André, who has stepped up to testify as a character witness for Kellermann, is also in danger: it was Lazare who brought down André’s father. Jean-Luc and André each have to decide whether to flee Paris or risk execution. Meticulously researched, with many extended discussions in cafes and back rooms—not to mention a couple of boudoirs—the book succeeds in forcefully illustrating the lessons of the French Revolution for today’s democratic movements. However, sheer talkiness too often overpowers the narrative, and the swashbuckling close is too little, too late.

A worthy but, finally, stultifying novel.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-59168-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Dial Press

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2017

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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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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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