A complex but rewarding meditation on the monstrous dreams of reason.


Spanish novelist and art historian Rojas delivers a politically charged, time-shifting portrait of the painter Francisco Goya in a time of repression.

Goya painted his subjects as he saw them, to sometimes precarious result, as when he turned in a portrait of the royal family that “lay bare in their features the stupidity, ambition, and duplicitous cunning that dwell within them.” For all that Goya was nearly indigent, deaf, and suffering from “the syphilis that perhaps he hadn’t known until then he had contracted in his early youth,” he was also exquisitely attuned to questions of political survival—a useful skill given that his bête noire if also odd confidant, the king, proudly describes himself as “your Saturn, devouring my people.” Leapfrogging decades, the scene shifts to another Saturn, the dying Francisco Franco, and the time of an art historian and intellectual, Sandro Vasari, “a descendant of Giorgio Vasari and three generations of émigrés terroni.” He is discontented, a hard drinker in a turbulent relationship, but finds meaning in the work of Goya, whose biography he is struggling to write and who was there at the dawn of “the liberal tradition that filled almost a century and a half of history, in spite of so many armed interruptions and its own errors, falsehoods, political bosses, and limitations of every kind”—and that Franco, his heart steadily failing, tried to end for so long. The title of Rojas’ novel is that of a monument to the Spanish Civil War dead, but this multistrained story points resolutely to the more distant past, as if to say that bad as things are now, they were as bad or worse then, and, conversely, much as we might believe in the promise of progress, things never really improve: our world is one of despots and tyrants, and it’s up to the artists, morally wanting though they might be, to document it.

A complex but rewarding meditation on the monstrous dreams of reason.

Pub Date: March 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-300-21796-4

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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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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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Romance and melodrama mix uneasily with mass murder.


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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