Motion’s plot wobbles as he casts his net wide to include slavery, but his ambition is admirable, as is his stylistic...




The British critic/biographer and former Poet Laureate, in his spirited sequel to Stevenson’s classic, Treasure Island, keeps the core of the original (the quest), while adding his own distinctive imprint.

It’s 1802, and 35 years since the Hispaniola set sail for Treasure Island. Former cabin boy Jim Hawkins owns a Thames-side inn outside London; his only child, also called Jim, is a well-educated amateur botanist. This 17-year-old Jim is our new hero and narrator, but don’t expect Stevenson’s pell-mell pace; Motion’s rhythm is much more leisurely. A blanketed figure in a small boat beckons to Jim. This is Natty, the tomboy daughter of the treacherous Long John Silver, who has his own inn upriver. It’s love at first sight for Jim, despite his unexplained fear of women. Natty takes Jim to meet Silver, blind and feeble. The old reprobate’s dying wish is for the youngsters to retrieve the remaining silver from the island. A ship and crew await them. Silver needs Jim to get the map, which his father keeps locked away; Jim’s theft of the map weighs heavily on his conscience, but he’s not about to pass up an adventure with Natty, disguised as a man for the voyage. Their position on board is privileged; Natty is her father’s representative, and Jim’s history is well-known. The situation on the island is horrifying. Stevenson’s three maroons, or castaways, have been joined by passengers from a shipwreck: 50 slaves and their guards. The maroons have imposed a reign of terror, resulting in a Conrad-ian “impenetrable darkness.” Natty will be captured. There will be exciting reversals of fortune before her stouthearted Captain’s party confronts the former pirates, who are almost too freaky in their “disgustingness.” Good people die; Jim must spill blood. In these scenes, Motion matches the raw vitality of Stevenson, though his conclusion is far more grim.

Motion’s plot wobbles as he casts his net wide to include slavery, but his ambition is admirable, as is his stylistic elegance.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-88487-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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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.


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...


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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