A strong entry for a college course on feminism and literature, this is too contrived and didactic to do well outside the...

TRISTANA

This love triangle presents a distinctive heroine but more archaic melodrama than those outside academia are likely to enjoy.

A major 19th-century (1843-1920) Spanish writer, Galdós (Misericordia, 2014, etc.) is often ranked second only to Cervantes. This 1892 novel may be familiar from the 1970 Luis Buñuel film of the same name. Set in Madrid, the story begins shortly after the title character is taken in as a teen orphan by an aging Don Lope as he is winding down from years of heedless seduction. She succumbs to his practiced charms and becomes his last great conquest but by age 21 recognizes the limitations of life as a mistress. A chance encounter leads her into a passionate and rather gawky affair with a young painter named Horacio. She refuses, though, to accept another set of fetters. She casts about for a way to keep her lover while becoming independent and productive, mulling at different times painting, music and acting. Galdós’ liberal leanings shape a female iconoclast in the land of machismo. He lays it on thick by making Don Lope an unlikely Lothario of taste, intelligence and Old World gallantry, if not chivalry—there is much of Don Quixote in him without the delusions and innocence. Horacio plays the perfect shallow romantic hero: a handsome artist with money, a house on the coast, a great tan and a bottomless patience for Tristana’s restless ambition. When the young lovers must endure a period of separation, the reader must endure many pages of letters filled with pet names, cute puns and painless torments. Galdós is most interesting and least predictable in the psychological shifts and byplay between Don Lope and Tristana, but the book would need a lot more of that to mute the emotional megaphone of the rest.

A strong entry for a college course on feminism and literature, this is too contrived and didactic to do well outside the world of required reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59017-765-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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