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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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.


In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.


Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31817-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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