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ALL THE LIVES WE NEVER LIVED

A novel of history, both global and personal, gracefully wrought but self-consciously constructed.

Looking back, less in anger, more in sorrow infused with gradual understanding, an Indian horticulturist recalls his abandonment by his mother as India’s fight for independence merged into World War II.

On the world stage, an immense nation struggles to liberate itself from a repressive colonial history; in an Indian town called Muntazir, a gifted young woman brought up by her father to love and explore the arts is also yearning for freedom, from the domineering behavior of an educated but controlling husband. Gayatri Rozario is the young, stifled wife, and it’s her son, Myshkin Chand Rozario, who narrates the events of 1937, the year in which his free-spirited mother abandoned the family home for a life of creativity, encouraged by a visiting German painter, Walter Spies. Myshkin, now in his mid-60s, has never left that family home, having opted for a life of service: Muntazir’s trees, shade, and flowers are the products of his job as Superintendent of Horticulture. But this isolated man’s perspective is a wounded one, and his account of unhappiness—his own, his mother’s, and his stepmother’s—is melancholy, lit with occasional bright glimpses of gardens, colorful saris, and musical evenings. Roy (Sleeping on Jupiter, 2016, etc.) is a lyrical, subtle, finely observant writer, yet there’s a spark missing in this story, hitched as it is to the real-life figure of Spies, whose residence in Bali introduces other historical figures, then gives way to glimpses of ill treatment of prisoners as war engulfs the island. Myshkin gains late insight into his mother's actions from a cache of letters to a friend, which Roy interrupts with actual extracts from a novel Myshkin is reading, by Bengali author Maitreyi Devi, depicting a story similar to Gayatri’s. This synthesis of fact and artifice doesn’t wholly meld, but the book achieves late peace as Myshkin departs on a journey of his own.

A novel of history, both global and personal, gracefully wrought but self-consciously constructed.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-9821-0051-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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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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