An elegant foray into music and memory.

THE PRAGUE SONATA

A musical mystery set against the backdrop of a nation shattered by war and loss.

How many piano sonatas did Ludwig van Beethoven write? A music student might be quick to say 32—but that disallows the possibility that there’s one hidden somewhere or one by Mozart or Haydn that no one has ever seen before. That’s the conceit that Morrow (The Forgers, 2014, etc.) spins with this sonically rich novel, in which a Czech woman, Otylie Bartošová, only steps ahead of the German invaders in 1939, divides her inheritance among family and friends—namely, an anonymous Classical-era score given to her by her father and now split up into three, rendering it essentially without value to the avaricious Nazis. On immigrating to America, Otylie loses sight and hope of the treasure—part of which resurfaces years later in contemporary New York, beguiling a musicologist named Meta Taverner, who “knew it was impossible she had stumbled on another Beethoven Werk ohne Opuszahl in deepest, darkest Queens” but presses on, having now found a new source of meaning in a life burdened with quiet tragedies. She goes to Prague, seeking clues. Morrow delights in local color, in the “home of the Golem and crazy Rudolf’s equally crazy alchemists, not to mention Kafka’s bug,” though he works in an intriguing counterintuition: who’s to say that the manuscript isn’t in Prague, Texas, or Prague, Nebraska? The story, which runs a touch too long, takes a conventional whodunit twist with the introduction of a competing musicologist who wants the glory (and money) for himself even as Meta hits walls that induce a crisis of confidence in her abilities—and therein lies something of a leitmotiv. Yet, with the help of a dogged journalist and other allies, Meta works her way toward a hard-won resolution. As she says, “Sometimes in life what’s broken can’t be put back together,” to which Otylie replies, “Or maybe it was never truly broken at all.”

An elegant foray into music and memory.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2715-0

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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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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