YOU CAN'T PUSH A ROPE

A historical novel in the vein of John Steinbeck about a long disputed New Mexican territory and the Hispanic and White families that call it home.

This is an admirably ambitious book, with much to say about race, colonialism, civil rights and man’s relation to the earth. The novel focuses, promisingly, on the uneasy relationship between its two strongest characters: Joaquin Peralta, a fiery leader of a community group devoted to winning back the title to land they believe was stolen by gringos from their Mexican and Spanish-settler ancestors; and Joaquin’s stepson Chava Traxler, a half-white, half-Hispanic teenager who comes to question the group’s increasingly militant tactics. However, that story is diluted by the novel’s overly large reach. The characters are too often used as vehicles for exposition and info-dumping, with long speeches about the technical details of the land dispute stemming the flow of the narrative. The point-of-view shifts too often to incidental characters whose lives and thoughts are not fleshed out fully enough to coalesce into true, necessary plotlines. Action is well written, and between all the guns, shooting and storming of properties, there’s lots of it. At times, however, the book reads like a newspaper article dutifully reporting all the facts, rather than inevitabilities that should spin out from the motivations and psyches of the characters. The biggest missed opportunity of the book is Joaquin; despite opening with his point of view, Trafton confusingly moves away from him in the second chapter and never fully returns. Enough groundwork is laid out to suggest an intriguing, charismatic personality on the level of Malcolm X, but readers are deprived of access to Joaquin’s interior thoughts and feelings; the result is an angry, one-note cutout. Chava exhibits greater self-reflection and character development, but in the end he, too, is unable to break free from the novel’s dogged, didactic devotion to its larger sociopolitical themes. Vivid and well-mapped-out, but ultimately closer to history lesson than novel. 

 

Pub Date: July 6, 2006

ISBN: 978-1552123386

Page Count: 316

Publisher: Trafford

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2012

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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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