Brown (Lamb in Love, 1999, etc.) tells her story with great delicacy, giving an otherworldly, luminous air to a tawdry...

THE HATBOX BABY

A respected doctor and a notorious fan dancer fall in love at the Chicago Century of Progress Exposition, circa 1933.

This unlikely pair is brought together by a baby—born three months early and carried to the fairgrounds in a hatbox by his desperate young father, who hopes that Dr. Leo Hoffman, a pioneer in neonatology, can save him. To raise money for the care of these mostly unwanted newborns, Dr. Hoffman (based on a real doctor) exhibits them and their devoted nurses to the curious public in a special, scrupulously clean display known as the Infantorium. There, in an oxygenated incubator, the hatbox baby clings to life as visitors flock to view the tiny infants. Unlike the raucous carnival atmosphere that pervades most of the Exposition, the mood is one of hushed awe, almost reverence, for the nobly self-effacing doctor and his fragile little patients. Caro, the fan dancer (loosely based on Sally Rand) who performs next door, is a pink-and-white goddess, a free spirit who takes lovers as she pleases—although she remains essentially indifferent to all but Dr. Hoffman, who cannot resist her forthright sensuality. Her cousin, St. Louis, who serves as her go-between and protector, was himself born prematurely and takes an avid interest in the Infantorium—especially the hatbox baby, who remains unnamed and unclaimed after his anonymous father is mysteriously murdered amidst a crazed fairgrounds mob. St. Louis—a pickpocket, con man, and all-around trickster—then befriends a wet nurse the better to gain access to the infants. When misguided but determined protestors have the Infantorium shut down, St. Louis envisions a lonely future without the babies or Caro—and so steals the hatbox baby and heads home to the Virginia countryside.

Brown (Lamb in Love, 1999, etc.) tells her story with great delicacy, giving an otherworldly, luminous air to a tawdry setting and great dignity to her characters. A fascinating, lyrically written tale.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2000

ISBN: 1-56512-299-2

Page Count: 348

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2000

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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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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