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THAT ANVIL OF OUR SOULS

A NOVEL OF THE MONITOR AND THE MERRIMACK

Series best, and for those who see the Civil War as this country’s defining drama, simply not to be missed.

The iron ships duke it out in the third of Poyer’s banner Civil War at Sea cycle (Fire on the Waters, 2001; A Country of Our Own, 2003).

Since there was no way you could hurt them, ironclads were able to hang around and eventually blow you out of the water, thus consigning wooden-ship warfare to naval history. The Merrimack, Yankee at birth, captured, refitted and reborn as the Virginia, was the South’s great hope to legitimize the Confederate States of America in the eyes of Britain and France, gain their aid and perhaps even hurry the end of hostilities by demonstrating a weapon powerful enough to defy countermeasure. Enter “the cheese box.” Compared to its hulking rival, the diminutive Monitor at first generated more amusement than concern. But that didn’t last. In March of 1862, seagoing David and Goliath bombarded each other for almost four hours; at the end of that time, both remained essentially what they had been at the outset, still impregnable. Serving aboard the Merrimack/Virginia is Lieutenant Lomax Minter—resplendently red-haired, magnetically handsome, totally insufferable. In the view of the ship’s wise and weary doctor, he is one of the “lovely fiery fools,” easily capable of bringing death to them all. To which the quintessential cavalier replies with a shrug. Minter’s theme: “What was life for but glory?” Serving on the Monitor, meanwhile, is Chief Engineer Theo Hubbard—short, solemn, as unprepossessing as his ship and as different from Minter as two brave men could ever be. Through them, mostly, readers experience the epic battle. And who really won? It’s arguable both ways, though in his darker moments Poyer seems to suggest that no one did.

Series best, and for those who see the Civil War as this country’s defining drama, simply not to be missed.

Pub Date: July 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-684-87135-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2005

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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 LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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