A rich tale set in the underexplored Wilhelmine Germany.



In this historical novel, a young Jewish musician navigates the pressures of love and intolerance in fin-de-siècle Germany.

Berlin, 1896. Promising young pianist Lisi von Schwabacher has just returned home from three years of study in Vienna. Her great talent—as well as her father’s banking fortune—quickly attracts suitors, including Wilhelm von Boening, the son of a count who owes Lisi’s father quite a bit of money, and the widower Prince Egon von Wittenbach. But Lisi is not impassioned by the idea of settling down as a wife, especially since modernity is quickly supplying alternate models for how to exist as a woman in society. Her father’s cousin Countess von Kalckreuth, for example, is wealthy, unmarried, and a well-known hostess of salons—a remarkable position of independence and prominence for a Jewish woman. Lisi wants to be modern as well, leading a life built around art and ideas rather than her ability to bear children or finance a husband’s pursuits with her father’s money. With this in mind, she begins an affair with the poor but handsome Wilhelm even though she has no intention of marrying him. At first it is exciting, but a pregnancy soon reveals her incautious fling to be a life-altering error. Her options are not as clear-cut as they may seem. First of all, Lisi is convinced that Wilhelm is much more interested in the von Schwabacher fortune than he is in her. Second, her father’s warning about the latent anti-Semitism of gentile suitors continues to ring in her ears: “It’s always the same story. These noblemen who marry Jewesses want only their money, and not their children.” Can Lisi still carve out the life she imagined for herself, or has she fallen into one of the many traps laid by a society eager to squash the ambitions of both women and Jews?

Mack’s elegant prose summons the era by evoking the literature of the time period. Readers can be forgiven for thinking they are perusing a genuine Victorian novel: “This encounter, the first since the final lunch at Kleinneubach, deeply unsettled Boening. For several minutes after it, he felt a dull heat rising and falling in his innards, as well as a mental haze so acute that he was beset with the impulse to shake his head free of it.” The book often makes use of letters, which are both linguistically convincing and quivering with intimated desires. Lisi is a character worthy of Edith Wharton, compellingly driven and finely flawed. Her Jewish background, paired with the German setting, lends additional dimensions to what might otherwise be a fairly conventional bit of historical fiction. The supporting characters are also drawn in enticing detail, transcending the archetypal roles they fill as relatives, friends, and potential lovers, particularly Lisi’s parents, Magnus and Susannah, and her cousin Klara. Mack succeeds in delivering the two primary expectations of this sort of novel: Readers will be thoroughly immersed in the time period and fully invested in the fate of its hero.

A rich tale set in the underexplored Wilhelmine Germany.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73530-260-7

Page Count: 345

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Dec. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.


The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.


An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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