A finely crafted novel about family, identity, and the precariousness of comfort.

THE NUMISMATIST'S WIFE

Japhet tells the story of a German Jewish woman’s search for love and God during World War I in this debut historical novel.

Dana Newman discovers an ancient Roman coin at a Stormville, New York, flea market in 1999, which reminds her husband’s relative of an old family story from Germany. Ilse Ehrenkrantz, who was 17 in 1912, fell in love with her stepcousin Georg, a skilled fencer and womanizer who decided to join the Prussian Army. He was also a numismatist—a coin collector—and he sent Ilse a necklace made from a Roman denarius that bore the image of Apollo. Ilse’s father, a Jewish publisher, was doing well, but some of his friends complained about persistent anti-Semitism. Ilse, meanwhile, felt confined by her life in Munich’s middle-class Jewish community. Her interest in religious-themed art led to curiosity about Christianity itself, and she began to associate more with the Christian girls at her school. “I want God to enlighten my heart,” she told her sister. “I want faith, perhaps faith in Jesus as Savior and Redeemer, as Messiah. I want to understand the religion which inspires artists so powerfully.” Georg, too, thought of converting—a necessity for becoming a Prussian officer. However, Ilse risked losing the love of her family if she turned her back on Judaism. As war loomed on Germany’s horizon, Ilse had to decide whether her infatuations—with Georg and with Jesus—could sustain her through what was to come. It was a decision that would reverberate through the rest of the century. Japhet’s prose skillfully evokes the early-20th-century period, from the diction of the characters to the details of their clothes and furniture. The novel’s depiction of upwardly mobile Jews in prewar Munich and Berlin opens up a world that one rarely sees portrayed in fiction, and one gets the sense of what assimilation meant to some of the members of Ilse’s generation. It’s a mannered novel about wealthy people, calling to mind the work of such authors as Edith Wharton or E.M. Forster, and its pace mirrors the literature of the time in which most of it is set. For all the talk of art and aspiration, however, the author ensures that history’s horrors are never far below the surface: “When I came to Germany, there was a famine in Berdichev,” recalls Sara, a poor immigrant who would later become the wife of a wealthy businessman and take Ilse under her wing. “Starving villagers stole bread from the children of others, and especially from poor Jewish children…be glad you have never seen hunger, and mothers watching their children die.” Japhet manages to weave the histories of the Jewish people, Germany, socialism, and art into the narrative, providing context that makes the actions of the characters feel tragically inevitable. The frame narrative, set in 1999, feels largely unnecessary, as the primary plot builds toward a conclusion that’s mostly satisfying, if slightly predictable.

A finely crafted novel about family, identity, and the precariousness of comfort.

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4808-5802-2

Page Count: 194

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

THE ORPHAN'S TALE

A Jewish trapeze artist and a Dutch unwed mother bond, after much aerial practice, as the circus comes to Nazi-occupied France.

Ingrid grew up in a Jewish circus family in Darmstadt, Germany. In 1934, she marries Erich, a German officer, and settles in Berlin. In 1942, as the war and Holocaust escalate, Erich is forced to divorce Ingrid. She returns to Darmstadt to find that her family has disappeared. A rival German circus clan, led by its patriarch, Herr Neuhoff, takes her in, giving her a stage name, Astrid, and forged Aryan papers. As she rehearses for the circus’ coming French tour, she once again experiences the freedom of an accomplished aerialist, even as her age, late 20s, catches up with her. The point of view shifts (and will alternate throughout) to Noa, a Dutch teenager thrown out by her formerly loving father when she gets pregnant by a German soldier. After leaving the German unwed mothers’ home where her infant has been taken away, either for the Reich’s Lebensborn adoption program or a worse fate, Noa finds work sweeping a train station. When she comes upon a boxcar full of dead or dying infants, she impulsively grabs one who resembles her own child, later naming him Theo. By chance, Noa and Theo are also rescued by Neuhoff, who offers her refuge in the circus, provided she can learn the trapeze. The tour begins with a stop in Thiers, France. Astrid is still leery of her new apprentice, but Noa catches on quickly and soon must replace Astrid in the act due to the risk that a Nazi spectator might recognize her. Noa falls in love with the mayor’s son, Luc, who Astrid suspects is a collaborator. Astrid’s Russian lover, Peter, a clown, tempts fate with a goose-stepping satire routine, and soon the circus will afford little protection to anybody. The diction seems too contemporary for the period, and the degree of danger the characters are in is more often summarized than demonstrated.

An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1981-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

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THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK

One of Kentucky’s last living “Blue People” works as a traveling librarian in 1930s Appalachia.

Cussy Mary Carter is a 19-year-old from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. She was born with a rare genetic condition, and her skin has always been tinged an allover deep blue. Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner who relentlessly attempts to marry her off. Unfortunately, with blue skin and questionable genetics, Cussy is a tough sell. Cussy would rather keep her job as a pack-horse librarian than keep house for a husband anyway. As part of the new governmental program aimed at bringing reading material to isolated rural Kentuckians, Cussy rides a mule over treacherous terrain, delivering books and periodicals to people of limited means. Cussy’s patrons refer to her as “Bluet” or “Book Woman,” and she delights in bringing them books as well as messages, medicine, and advice. When a local pastor takes a nefarious interest in Cussy, claiming that God has sent him to rid society of her “blue demons,” efforts to defend herself leave Cussy at risk of arrest, or worse. The local doctor agrees to protect Cussy in exchange for her submission to medical testing. As Doc finds answers about Cussy’s condition, she begins to re-examine what it means to be a Blue and what life after a cure might look like. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Cussy begins traveling to the city for medical testing, the stakes get higher, as does the suspense of the story. Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a society’s members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky.

A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7152-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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