Gillham takes a brave risk in turning an icon of goodness into a bitter, troubled survivor to show the emotional crises...

ANNELIES

After delving into the moral complexities faced by Berliners during World War II (City of Women, 2012), Gillham creates an alternate reality in which Anne Frank survives the Holocaust.

Gillham faces an impossible challenge in fictionalizing Anne Frank’s life before and during her time in hiding. Readers of her diary (and who isn’t one?) have already experienced a more vividly illuminating account of Anne’s arguments with her mother, her ambivalence toward her older sister, Margot, her adoration of her father, Pim, her complicated relationship with Annex-mate Peter and his family, even her ambition to be a writer; Gillham’s insertion of quotes from the diary only heightens the contrast between its artless eloquence and this clunky retelling. Once the Nazis discover the Franks, there is no diary to rely on for comparison. Instead the novel offers standard, if painfully accurate, concentration-camp tropes of suffering and sacrifice. The real Anne and Margot died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen. Fictional Anne recovers in British-occupied Germany after liberation, then returns to Amsterdam to reunite with Pim in what should be a joyful moment but is undercut by “a bite of fury.” While what happens to Anne’s diary drives the plot, the emotional and ethical trauma suffered by survivors of wartime atrocity is the central theme. All the postwar characters, Jewish and gentile, struggle to overcome their past. Anger and survivor’s guilt storm within Anne. Margot’s ghost has become her constant companion. In one particularly powerful scene, Anne remains jealous over a sweater Margot received in Auschwitz instead of her but also recalls how Margot and their mother sacrificed transfer to a safer work camp because Anne was too sick to go with them. Anne’s hostility to Pim’s new wife and suspicion of everyone else in Amsterdam control her behavior until she faces the anger she directs toward herself.

Gillham takes a brave risk in turning an icon of goodness into a bitter, troubled survivor to show the emotional crises faced by Holocaust survivors, although flat-footed storytelling weakens the impact.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-16258-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2018

  • New York Times Bestseller

CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

Did you like this book?

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 20

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more