The 18th-century diction is convincing, but too much elephant lore, though engrossing in its own right, slows the pace.

THE ELEPHANT KEEPER

Faux-picaresque debut novel about a boy and his elephant.

In 1766, Tom, a stable boy, is put in charge of two elephants purchased by the squire of an English country estate. Tom quickly learns to communicate with and train these intelligent animals without resorting to cruelty. The meticulously detailed, occasionally tedious first third of the text describes this process, as well as such watershed events in Tom’s life as the death of his father and a tryst with his sweetheart, housemaid Lizzy. Male elephant Timothy’s hormones rage out of control, and he is sold to an earl. Jenny, the female elephant, becomes Tom’s partner in interior monologue as Tom imagines she is conversing with him. When eccentric aristocrat Lord Bidborough purchases Jenny, Tom is admitted to the fantastic park, complete with obelisk, manmade waterfall and Hermit-for-hire, which this gouty noble polymath has created on his vast fiefdom. Lord Bidborough, an animal lover, respects Tom and Jenny and even asks Tom to pen “the History of the Elephant,” whence the pretext for the novel. This idyll is shattered when Mr. Singleton, Bidborough’s son and heir, returns from his dissipated life abroad. An arrogant, nasty roué, Singleton torments Jenny, rapes a housemaid and is about to violate a young village girl when Tom and Jenny intervene. Singleton lashes out at Tom, breaking his nose and permanently disfiguring him; Jenny exacts revenge. Singleton’s murderer is never found, but shortly after the incident, Lord Bidborough, rendered mute and incapacitated by a stroke, dies, and Tom and Jenny are on the road again. Twenty years later, Tom is now Jenny’s keeper at a London “Menagery”/ amusement arcade, where Jenny is being passed off as more than 100 years old by the flimflam zookeeper. From there, Nicholson experiments with several possible resolutions, only to opt for an uplifting but inconclusive ending.

The 18th-century diction is convincing, but too much elephant lore, though engrossing in its own right, slows the pace.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-06-165160-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

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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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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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