The one-dimensional portrait of Elizabeth as a none-too-bright harridan makes her an unsatisfying antagonist for vivacious...

THE MEMOIRS OF MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS

Another historical entertainment from the prolific Erickson (The Tsarina’s Daughter, 2008, etc.).

This swift, spare account is told in the plangent voice of Mary Stuart (1542–87). She begins her diary at age 15 with her marriage to the French dauphin, soon to be King Francis II. Her sickly husband is never able to father the heir Mary needs to solidify her position at the French court, ruled over by ruthless Queen Mother Catherine de Medici. Catherine’s seer, Michel de Notredame, intones that despite her impeccable royal pedigree, Mary has been doomed from birth. After Francis dies, Mary leaves for Scotland to assume the throne she inherited from her father, James V. She’s accompanied by Jamie, Earl of Bothwell, a fierce, brawling Scotsman. Roman Catholic Mary is unable to quell the unrest fomented by fractious clan warlords and the Presbyterian movement led by John Knox. Matters aren’t helped by a disastrous marriage to her cousin Henry, Lord Darnley, who rapes her. The son of that union, the future James VI, will remain a stranger to his mother. After Mary and Bothwell conspire to have Henry killed, her cousin and rival, England’s Queen Elizabeth, takes advantage of her unpopularity in Scotland to have her placed under house arrest in London. Bothwell spirits Mary away to a Scottish isle where they marry in secret. Their (fictional) daughter is raised in Normandy by Mary’s French kin. The Queen of Scots inspires Pope Gregory and swashbuckling Italian admiral Don John to muster a fleet to invade England. This plan comes to naught, and rather than embrace safe obscurity in Normandy, Mary and Jamie seek to blackmail Queen Elizabeth. Such harebrained schemes inevitably render Nostradamus’ prediction self-fulfilling.

The one-dimensional portrait of Elizabeth as a none-too-bright harridan makes her an unsatisfying antagonist for vivacious Mary, but this is the only misstep in a fast-paced, lavishly detailed narrative.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-312-37973-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2009

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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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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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