A melodrama of the waning British Empire.

THE TEA PLANTER'S WIFE

A young English wife becomes the mistress of a tea plantation in Ceylon and is quickly confronted with upheavals—racial, social, and domestic—in Jefferies’ U.S. debut.

Gwen, daughter of a landed Gloucestershire family, marries widower Laurence Hooper, descended from Ceylon’s original English settlers. Upon setting up housekeeping on the vast Hooper tea plantation, Gwen is puzzled by Laurence’s intermittent coldness toward her. Unable to get any information out of the family servants, not even longtime retainer and ayah Naveena, Gwen suspects that Laurence may be succumbing to the blandishments, financial and otherwise, of New York sophisticate Christina, a Wall Street trader. Another thorn is Verity, Laurence’s clingy sister, who refuses to get married while insisting that Laurence pay her an allowance. In a secluded grotto, Gwen discovers the grave of Laurence’s young son, Thomas, his child by his first wife, Caroline, and Laurence is circumspect about how Thomas died—as he is about the nature of Caroline’s final illness. At a planters’ soiree, Gwen spies Laurence dancing with Christina and feigns indifference by getting sloshed. Unable to recall what happened after being carried upstairs and put to bed by Savi Ravasinghe, a charming Sinhalese society portraitist, Gwen assumes the worse. Laurence and she having ironed out their conjugal wrinkles, she becomes pregnant, and, while Laurence is away, she gives birth to twins—a white boy and a girl clearly of mixed race. Naveena names the girl Liyoni and finds a family to raise her. Tormented by the loss of her daughter, secrets kept from and by Laurence, and revulsion for Savi, Gwen watches the painter flirt with every woman in sight and eventually become the toast of New York. Muddle the above with the Wall Street crash, mysterious thefts, and a couple of native uprisings, and we soon realize that this plot has painted itself into a corner from which only the unlikeliest of coincidences can extract it.

A melodrama of the waning British Empire.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-451-49597-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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

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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

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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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