An old-fashioned and uplifting tale starring a Civil War veteran.

THE CAPTAIN FINDS THE KEY

From the Captain Chronicles series , Vol. 3

A heroic Confederate soldier-turned-minister faces his greatest enemy.

In this conclusion of her trilogy, Durbin (The Captain Seeks the Lost, 2015, etc.) presents the further adventures of Civil War veteran Capt. Harry Richardson, who was captured at Missionary Ridge and spent time as a prisoner of war. He later joined the U.S. Cavalry to fight Native Americans and received a theology degree so that he could embrace the peaceful life of a Georgia preacher in the town of Choestoe. Along the way, he fell in love with and married a strong-spirited woman named Sarah and started a family. But the central conceit of the author’s stories is that violence continues to find a way of touching the captain’s life, and that pattern holds true in this latest volume, matched with the other theme of the series: personal transformation. This applies not only to Harry, but also to this installment’s strong secondary hero, bootlegger-turned-sheriff Michael Gibson, whose narrative and relationship with nurse and midwife Molly Baldwin enliven the broader tale. As in earlier volumes, Durbin keeps the novel’s various plots bubbling at a steady pace, helped by the antagonism between Harry and one of the story’s array of morally conflicted figures, a man named Eldridge Payne. Payne elicits reactions from the protagonist that he’d like to think he’s outgrown. “As a preacher, he knew he should be concerned about Eldridge Payne’s soul,” Harry reflects at one point, “but what he wanted was retribution.” The author has a good ear for dialogue, a fine feel for pacing, and a knack for crafting characters—like Sarah, Harry, and Gibson—who are complex and intriguingly flawed but ultimately heroic. The action in this latest book is kicked off with the murder of a sheriff, a Confederate secret society called the Knights of the Golden Circle, and a secret room whose contents might change the captain’s life forever. Those coming to this volume cold will be confused about the finer details, but longtime readers of the series should be smiling at its conclusion.

An old-fashioned and uplifting tale starring a Civil War veteran.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-973639-22-0

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 15, 2019

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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