A rich, intensely rewarding novel that humanizes a long-forgotten religious conflict.

Purged By Fire

HERESY OF THE CATHARS

A historical novel dramatizing a love story that plays out against the backdrop of the Albigensian Crusade.

Bonavist’s debut work of historical fiction is set in a 13th-century France convulsed in religious conflict. The Catholic Church, in league with the French monarchy, conducted decades of war and crusades against the Languedoc region of southern France in an effort to extirpate the Cathars, the “good Christians” as they call themselves in Bonavist’s fast-moving and utterly beguiling story. The tightly woven exposition familiarizes readers with the complicated state of religious and psychological tension that exists in the south as peaceful Cathars try to go about their daily lives even as persecution at the hands of the Dominican-run Inquisition continues to mount. Three main characters are caught within these tensions: Isarn Benet, a legal advocate for the crown; Marsal, a strong-willed young woman Benet saved from the deadly siege of the city of Béziers; and a woman named Tibors, an elder of the Cathar faith and a healer of great local renown who gave safe harbor to Benet. Having reached young womanhood, Marsal meets Tibors' handsome nephew Chrétien, a wounded soldier who travels to Tibors for healing. Marsal, raised on the poems of courtly love, falls almost instantly in love (“I had looked for the clean-striking arrow of love about which the troubadours sang and I had found it in Chrétien”). The warmth of the portrait Bonavist paints of Tibors and her safe, sane little Cathar enclave makes the eventual horrors of the Inquisition feel more immediate than any history book, and although the character of Chrétien is a bit flat, Marsal is an arresting fictional creation, a hopeful yet unsentimental realist. Bonavist shifts the narrative focal point from chapter to chapter; chapters told from Marsal’s point of view are the sharpest. An absorbing reconstruction of the faith wars of the Middle Ages.

A rich, intensely rewarding novel that humanizes a long-forgotten religious conflict.

Pub Date: July 29, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-86698-810-0

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Bagwyn Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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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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A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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