While it rings true, the novel’s childlike narration may be off-putting to some readers. Readers who can look past that will...

HAP AND HAZARD AND THE END OF THE WORLD

A child yearning for answers to adult mysteries comes of age in this debut novel about post–World War II Texas.

DeSanders’ unnamed child narrator misses the attention she got from her mother when her father was away at war. He returned home, and two babies promptly arrived; she is displaced from the center of her mother’s life. Her father believes in American institutions, traditional family roles. “Daddy believes in General Motors,” she tells us, and “he wants to have things a certain way.” The author captures the veneer of simplicity that followed the second world war. Capitalism, family, and country reign, but DeSanders’ narrator wants to know why. What is truth? Is it built on trust? The author approaches these questions through the eyes of a child who wants to know everything, from the truth about Santa to how the universe works. “It seems like the main thing grown-ups want is for you not to find out anything about what’s real,” she laments. Unfortunately, her father suffers from PTSD and war injuries; his rage keeps his family on edge. The narrator’s world becomes about trying to anticipate the outbursts of a deeply troubled man while helping her mother maintain the fiction of stability. “I decided then to at least go ahead and like Daddy,” she tells us after he is in a giving mood, “on a trial basis.” As the novel progresses, her view of the world eventually becomes predictably more shaded. “There is a change in the universe…,” she says after an altering experience. “The world is plain and flat now, more gray, the mystery and the brilliance gone out of it.”

While it rings true, the novel’s childlike narration may be off-putting to some readers. Readers who can look past that will find a time capsule of American awakening.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-942658-36-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2017

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IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

This new Baldwin novel is told by a 19-year-old black girl named Tish in a New York City ghetto about how she fell in love with a young black man, Fonny. He got framed on a rape charge and she got pregnant before they could marry and move into their loft; but Tish and her family Finance a trip to Puerto Rico to track down the rape victim and rescue Fonny, a sculptor with slanted eyes and treasured independence. The book is anomalous for the 1970's with its Raisin in the Sun wholesomeness. It is sometimes saccharine, but it possesses a genuinely sweet and free spirit too. Along with the reflex sprinkles of hate-whitey, there are powerful showdowns between the two black families, and a Frieze of people who — unlike Fonny's father — gave up and "congregated on the garbage heaps of their lives." The style wobbles as Tish mixes street talk with lyricism and polemic and a bogus kind of Young Adult hesitancy. Baldwin slips past the conflict between fighting the garbage heap and settling into a long-gone private chianti-chisel-and-garret idyll, as do Fonny and Tish and the baby. But Baldwin makes the affirmation of the humanity of black people which is all too missing in various kinds of Superfly and sub-fly novels.

Pub Date: May 24, 1974

ISBN: 0307275930

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1974

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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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