With her usual expert precision and swiftly assured strokes, Rubens cuts away the dross and leaves us with baroque emotions...


Two British soldiers—one Jewish—are twisted up in espionage in British Palestine.

Never one for excess sentiment, Rubens (Nine Lives, 2004, etc.) allows emotions to flower somewhat in her sharp-edged, based-on-a-true-story romance that puts love and war at loggerheads. It’s 1947, and the British Mandate in Palestine is drawing to a close. International condemnation has grown louder as the British refuse to accept ship after ship of Jewish refugees, “turned back to the hell from which they had sailed.” A pair of British sergeants, David Millar and Will Griffiths, already conflicted about their morally dubious job of keeping the refugees from hitting the beach, are assigned an intelligence duty whereby they’ll gather information on the Jewish resistance, which is divided between the mostly nonviolent Hagannah movement and the terrorist Irgun group. Although easy duty at first (they get to wear civilian clothes and be their own bosses), the intelligence work starts to wear on David and Will in true shades-of-gray le Carré–fashion. Will realizes that one of the men he plays with at a jazz club may be in the resistance, and David, who falls in love with a Jewish woman, is torn that he mustn’t divulge his Jewish identity to her. Rubens zooms from her small, carefully laid-out tale of the sergeants to the larger backdrop of history, the brutal tit-for-tat campaign of Irgun bombings and British execution of Irgun prisoners, and the machinations of David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin, diametrically opposed resistance leaders. Just when the story seems to be settling into a rather easygoing routine, with the slow dissolution of the sergeants’ military ardor, they are sucked into a kidnapping scheme that will put their heads in nooses unless the British grant amnesty to Irgun operatives.

With her usual expert precision and swiftly assured strokes, Rubens cuts away the dross and leaves us with baroque emotions conveyed in a fine-tuned minimalism. Nerve-racking.

Pub Date: March 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-349-11730-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Abacus/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2005

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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