Well-meaning but not an inspiring tale, and many readers will simply recoil. From the author of The President’s Daughter...

HOTTENTOT VENUS

Tale of a South African tribeswoman exhibited as a sexual curiosity in 1814, told in her own imagined words.

Sarah Baartman, a domestic in an Afrikaans household, is castigated as a freak of nature when her mistress catches sight of her bathing. From childhood, Sarah’s labia had been stretched by the insertion of small weights within a healed incision, a traditional practice that enhanced a woman’s sexual allure. The result: an “apron” of genital skin that is normal in her world—and anything but normal in the eyes of Europeans. Though married, Sarah is raped by her master, then sold to a French freak show where she’s exhibited naked, poked and prodded with sticks as onlookers gleefully ogle her enormous buttocks, also marks of feminine beauty in her culture. Two years later, she’s dead—and dissected, various of her body parts going to different institutions. Chase-Riboud labors mightily to invest this unfortunate woman with the dignity that her circumstances denied her, but the fictional result seems somewhat unreal. Sarah’s noble speech and they-know-not-what-they-do restraint seem more like the author’s effort to rise above the degradation of her heroine’s brief life than anything else. Other genital alterations are tastefully discussed in the course of the narrative—for example, the men of Sarah’s tribe being permitted only one testicle—though Chase-Riboud pretty much ignores the more dangerous custom of labial/clitoral cutting and sewing, which persists to this day and kills thousands.

Well-meaning but not an inspiring tale, and many readers will simply recoil. From the author of The President’s Daughter (1994) and other, more interesting, historical retellings of women in bondage.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50856-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2003

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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

THE WINTER GUEST

An 18-year-old Polish girl falls in love, swoons over a first kiss, dreams of marriage—and, oh yes, we are in the middle of the Holocaust.

Jenoff (The Ambassador’s Daughter, 2013, etc.) weaves a tale of fevered teenage love in a time of horrors in the early 1940s, as the Nazis invade Poland and herd Jews into ghettos and concentration camps. A prologue set in 2013, narrated by a resident of the Westchester Senior Center, provides an intriguing setup. A woman and a policeman visit the resident and ask if she came from a small Polish village. Their purpose is unclear until they mention bones recently found there: “And we think you might know something about them.” The book proceeds in the third person, told from the points of view mostly of teenage Helena, who comes upon an injured young Jewish-American soldier, and sometimes of her twin, Ruth, who is not as adventurous as Helena but is very competitive with her. Their father is dead, their mother is dying in a hospital, and they are raising their three younger siblings amid danger and hardship. The romance between Helena and Sam, the soldier, is often conveyed in overheated language that doesn’t sit well with the era’s tragic events: “There had been an intensity to his embrace that said he was barely able to contain himself, that he also wanted more.” Jenoff, clearly on the side of tolerance, slips in a simplified historical framework for the uninformed. But she also feeds stereotypes, having Helena note that Sam has “a slight arch to his nose” and a dark complexion that “would make him suspect as a Jew immediately.” Clichés also pop up during the increasingly complex plot: “But even if they stood in place, the world around them would not.”

Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1596-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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