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LIBERTY BAZAAR

This offbeat, refreshingly absorbing Civil War novel features impeccable research and well-realized main characters.

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In Chadwick’s (High Seas to Home, 2012) historical novel, an escaped slave girl and a former Confederate general meet in 1863 Liverpool.

This modified epistolary novel alternates between two first-person documents: “Experiences in the Life of a Slave Girl by Trinity Giddings” and “Recollections of a Confederate General by Jubal de Brooke.” Trinity is a 24-year-old slave in Charleston, South Carolina. With her family dead and her master’s unwanted sexual attentions becoming hard to avoid, she seizes a chance to escape using a fake pass and a mariner’s uniform. Trinity’s voice is distinctive, and her syntax and folksy vocabulary suit her time and station: “Short time later, this child was spying for President Lincoln. Yes I was!” she exults. She provides the novel’s life and soul, much like the character Handful in Sue Monk Kidd’s 2014 book The Invention of Wings. She sails to London and meets the American minister to Britain, and she takes the moral argument against slavery to Liverpool, “the most formidable Confederate bastion outside Dixie.” Jubal de Brooke, an unpopular man in the Confederate army due to his vocal opposition to slavery, has been sent to that city to use his dubious family connections to solicit financial help for the wartime cause. Meanwhile, he tries to overcome his debilitating battle flashbacks. Trinity soon learns that the British are building an ironclad warship for the Confederacy, and she becomes embroiled in a scheme to steal the plans and take them to the U.S. consulate. Jubal is romantically involved with a shipbuilding heiress but also drawn to Trinity; meanwhile, he hopes that the Grand Liberty Bazaar, a fundraiser for the Southern Prisoners’ Relief Fund, is a success—as his family name depends on it. Along with the two well-drawn narrators, the novel boasts several wonderful secondary characters, including Lord Harrowby, “Britain’s oldest dandy”; States Rights Rankin, a villainous Southern senator; and Josiah Mill, a black apothecary. Shades of Charles Dickens’ work, meanwhile, appear in the novel’s descriptions (“Chilly October day. Liverpool drab-grey below an endless wash of overcast”), its twisty plot, and its quirky character names (such as “Cuthbert Longinch” and “Lazarus Hotchkiss”).

This offbeat, refreshingly absorbing Civil War novel features impeccable research and well-realized main characters.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1906582920

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Aurora Metro Press

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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