A leisurely paced novel intended for those who like serious and thoughtful fiction.

ALL THAT IS SOLID MELTS INTO AIR

This debut novel is set in 1986, the year of the catastrophe at Chernobyl, and that disaster serves as the dramatic backdrop for the unfolding of action and character.      

First we meet Grigory Ivanovich Brovkin, a Moscow physician whose marriage to Maria has recently failed. Maria has a nephew, Yevgeni, her sister’s son, who, at age 9, shows great promise as a piano prodigy, though his poverty militates against his success. For example, except when he goes for lessons at the house of his teacher, Mr. Leibniz, he has no piano to practice on but only a keyboard that makes no sound. Despite his promise, Yevgeni occasionally (and understandably) loses heart, especially when physically tormented, as he frequently is, by his gym teacher and fellow students. After the Chernobyl debacle, Grigory’s medical skills are called on, for he must treat those who have been exposed to massive amounts of radiation. He feels dispirited by this as well as by official attempts to cover up the extent of the ecological and human disaster. McKeon takes the title for his novel from The Communist Manifesto, and everything solid does indeed seem to shift and evanesce as the events at Chernobyl reshape character and landscape. Eventually, Grigory pays a terrible physical price for his conscientious attention to duty, and Yevgeni, in a grace note of a conclusion set in 2011, receives a state prize for his virtuosity.

A leisurely paced novel intended for those who like serious and thoughtful fiction.

Pub Date: April 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-224687-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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