First-rate entertainment, from one of the masters.

PIRATES OF THE LEVANT

Heaving bosoms and hyperbolic derring-do abound in this sixth volume of the acclaimed Spanish author’s series of period swashbucklers (The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet, 2009, etc.).

It’s announced as “the final installment” in the saga of freelance soldier of fortune Captain Alatriste and his page turned foster son and companion Íñigo Balboa (imagine Sancho Panza in flaming youth, eager to emulate his master Don Quixote’s glamorous and amorous exploits). Final installment? Well, we all know what happened the first time Conan Doyle tried to off Sherlock Holmes, don’t we? Be that as it may, Pérez-Reverte treats us to another rousing adventure firmly in the tradition of modern romancer Rafael Sabatini channeling the immortal Alexandre Dumas. Once again, Íñigo narrates, in old age, remembering. The story records their deeds as mercenary soldiers aboard a Spanish galleon on a perilous mission that will culminate in a savage battle at sea, traveling from Naples through the eastern Mediterranean to Morocco and Algeria, thence Venice, and eventually Malta. Alatriste attempts to rescue an old friend; Íñigo, itching to attain full maturity (he has survived to the age of 17), writhes in the coils of his infatuation with beautiful Angélica, the niece of Alatriste’s old enemy—and either a paragon of burgeoning womanhood or a homicidal vixen leading the impulsive Íñigo to his doom. The action feels a bit generic, but the nicely timed introductions of savory and unsavory supporting characters keeps the reader hooked. (Pérez-Reverte even invents his own Gunga Din—resourceful Moorish manservant Gurriat.) The mix is further enriched by an autumnal sense of the waste and folly—and inevitability—of men’s compulsion to go to war.

First-rate entertainment, from one of the masters.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-399-15664-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Aug. 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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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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