A haunting, eloquent, and engaging historical drama.

CHATEAU LAUX

A debut novel about two colonists in America whose lives become entwined during the early years of the 18th century.

Twenty-two-year-old Lawrence Kraymer is tired in body and soul. He owns a successful Philadelphia brewery inherited from his cruel, exacting grandfather, who raised him after the untimely death of his unwed mother. Seeking a sense of inner peace that persistently eludes him, Lawrence hires John, a young Native American, to lead him on a hunting expedition through Pennsylvania’s frontier country. Later, when John heads off to New York, Lawrence chooses to stay behind in the wilderness—but without his guide, he soon finds himself lost. In a move that will change his destiny, he seeks refuge from a storm at a farm owned by Pierre Laux. There, he meets and is captivated by the lovely, 18-year-old Catherine, Pierre’s eldest daughter. As the novel unspools, readers learn that Pierre was born an aristocrat in southern France but arrived in Philadelphia as a destitute, 13-year-old orphan. When Lawrence later decides to build a chateau near Pierre’s farm, it triggers the elder man’s painful memories of life in the Pyrenees and the loss of his mother—the first indications that the novel will take a tragic turn. From the first pages, Loux, a poet and short story author, writes with a grace and a clear love of language that permeates the narrative, as when the story explores the linguistic schisms that divided northern and southern France during Pierre’s childhood. The author includes just enough period detail to bring the era to life without feeling excessive and incorporates intriguing tidbits about French religious conflict in Pierre’s backstory. Although the action in this slow-paced, character-driven tale, which focuses mainly on Pierre, Lawrence, and Pierre’s oldest son, Jean, frequently meanders, there are always signs of approaching conflict from a past that’s not “content to rest in peace.”

A haunting, eloquent, and engaging historical drama.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-954065-01-7

Page Count: 295

Publisher: Wire Gate Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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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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