Ghosh’s story, involving and intricate, speaks urgently to a time growing ever more perilous.

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GUN ISLAND

In the face of apocalyptic climate change, an Indian immigrant searches for the truth behind a Bengali legend.

Deen Datta travels each year from Brooklyn, where he works as a dealer in rare books and Asian antiquities, to his native Calcutta, “or Kolkata, as it is now formally known,” visiting family and scouting new purchases. As Ghosh’s (Flood of Fire, 2015, etc.) novel opens, a smart-alecky relative tells him the tale of a Bengali folk hero called the Gun Merchant, whose story is rooted in a shrine in the Sundarbans, ”a tiger-infested mangrove forest“ at the mouth of the Ganges. Another relative, an elderly woman who grew up in the islands, has more stories to tell—and so does Piya Roy, a young, female marine biologist who is studying the effects of climate change on whales and dolphins, once abundant in the storm-lashed Sundarbans. Deen is a collector not just of old things, but also of interesting friends from all over the world, such as the Italian scholar Giacinta Schiavon, who makes an urgent case for taking folktales seriously as descriptions of the world and auguries of things to come, even as Deen protests that he is ”a rational, secular, scientifically minded person.” There is good reason to beware of signs and portents, for even as the Sundarbans disappear beneath the rising sea and cobras strike unwary victims, places like Los Angeles are falling before a wall of fire, “a glowing snake hurtling towards me, through the flames,” while legions of displaced people are in flight, walking across continents, fleeing aboard boats “crowded with refugees.” Much of Deen’s story is a fictional rejoinder to Ghosh’s 2016 polemic, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, and, as with that book, blends elements of journalism, folklore, science, and history to describe a world on the verge of catastrophe—and one in which people, in the end, have nowhere to go.

Ghosh’s story, involving and intricate, speaks urgently to a time growing ever more perilous.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-16739-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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