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LIBRA

DeLillo's fascination with conspiracy, apocalypse, and public events—tesselated from a hundred chips of separate, small human misery—turns to the Kennedy assassination almost inevitably. And with the style honed by his most recent novels, White Noise and The Names (which this book seems closest to), he is able to construct a half-speculation, half-tragedy very finely. Lee Harvey Oswald is, of course, the center, the Libra of the book—his scales tipped lifelong by ugliness, outsider-ness, a smothering mother, a desperate need to distinguish himself somehow. The ex-Marine who defected to Russia and returned (and yet who called himself a Marxist even more doggedly back in the States with his Russian wife) is, in DeLillo's version, the completely marginal man, utterly without qualities. Which makes him a too-good-to-be-true instrument for a plot by current and ex-CIA operatives (as well as by disgruntled Bay of Pigs veterans) to find someone to take a shot at President Kennedy. That the shot is supposed to miss (kill a Secret Service man at worst)—and that the furor resulting from it would then be pointed in Cuba's direction, as a Castro plot to kill Kennedy—gets quickly forgotten as the conspiracy begins to take on a life of its own: the multiple gunmen in place, Oswald as the gun they'll let the police find and do with as they will. As speculation, this is nothing new, but DeLillo's novelistic powers become very keen indeed, especially when forming scenes for the plotters. For them, ideology is more than slippery, it's of no-account: process is all—and yet everything is always at the lip of chaos. Oswald keeps slipping from their grasp, for instance, and real organization is an illusion. Brilliant interior monologues (with the exception of that of Oswald's mother, Marguerite, which is largely hokey and theatrical) suggest deep seriousness at the total whim of accident. DeLillo mars the book a little with overly portentous intellectual meditations (by one of the CIA operatives) on the nature of plots—murderous or fictional—and by Jack Ruby's hopelessly awkward Jewish-gangster manner of speaking. But these are flaw-specks in a book that is genuinely dread-filled—a story that everyone knows he doesn't really know, and which DeLillo worries, and prods, and deepens with sure artistry.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 1988

ISBN: 0140156046

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1988

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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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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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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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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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