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WINTER KEPT US WARM

There’s elegance, insight, tenderness, and craft aplenty in this pensive, melancholy story, but its insistent restraint and...

In Berlin, in the aftermath of World War II, three disparate lives come together.

In keeping with its title, this second novel from Raeff (Clara Mondschein’s Melancholia, 2002, etc.) delivers its story of haunting events and slow-burning passions with cool detachment. (It also reunites readers with some characters encountered in Raeff’s story collection, The Jungle Around Us, 2015.) Bracketed within a contemporary narrative thread set in the oppressive heat of Morocco, where Isaac goes to visit Ulli, now a hotelier in Meknes whom he hasn’t seen for 40 years, is a long sequence of flashbacks, beginning with Ulli, a teenager in Germany in 1937, embarking on her first love affair. Leo and Isaac meet as soldiers in Arizona, both medically unfit to fight: Leo has a faulty heart valve; Isaac is asthmatic. The trio comes together in a bar in postwar Berlin in 1945, and so an emotional triangle is formed, with Leo and Ulli as its lovers and Isaac the dependable friend. Enduring loyalties are forged between all three, but the relationships shift over time: Ulli loves and marries Leo but isn’t happy; Leo has kept secrets from Ulli which will eventually force them apart. Their children, Simone and Juliet, must accommodate parents whose emotional trajectories create ever larger distances, while Isaac’s role is to step into the caring void left by the other two. All this history is slowly unpeeled between scenes in Morocco where Isaac and Ulli try to bridge what has separated them.

There’s elegance, insight, tenderness, and craft aplenty in this pensive, melancholy story, but its insistent restraint and distance bleach away intimacy; it’s as if readers are viewing the characters through the wrong end of a telescope.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61902-817-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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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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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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