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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Constructed with delicacy, lyricism, and care, Hertmans’ novel still feels occasionally static.

THE CONVERT

A Christian woman and a Jewish man fall in love in medieval France.

In 1088, a Christian girl of Norman descent falls in love with the son of a rabbi. They run away together, to disastrous effect: Her father sends knights after them, and though they flee to a small southern village where they spend a few happy years, their budding family is soon decimated by a violent wave of First Crusaders on their way to Jerusalem. The girl, whose name becomes Hamoutal when she converts to Judaism, winds up roaming the world. Hertmans’ (War and Turpentine, 2016, etc.) latest novel is based on a true story: The Cairo Genizah, a trove of medieval manuscripts preserved in an Egyptian synagogue, contained an account of Hamoutal’s plight. Hamoutal makes up about half of Hertmans’ novel; the other half is consumed by Hertmans’ own interest in her story. Whenever he can, he follows her journey: from Rouen, where she grew up, to Monieux, where she and David Todros—her Jewish husband—made a brief life for themselves, and all the way to Cairo, and back. “Knowing her life story and its tragic end,” Hertmans writes, “I wish I could warn her of what lies ahead.” The book has a quiet intimacy to it, and in his descriptions of landscape and travel, Hertmans’ prose is frequently lovely. In Narbonne, where David’s family lived, Hertmans describes “the cool of the paving stones in the late morning, the sound of doves’ wings flapping in the immaculate air.” But despite the drama of Hamoutal’s story, there is a static quality to the book, particularly in the sections where Hertmans describes his own travels. It’s an odd contradiction: Hertmans himself moves quickly through the world, but his book doesn’t quite move quickly enough.

Constructed with delicacy, lyricism, and care, Hertmans’ novel still feels occasionally static.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4708-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

WE WERE THE LUCKY ONES

Hunter’s debut novel tracks the experiences of her family members during the Holocaust.

Sol and Nechuma Kurc, wealthy, cultured Jews in Radom, Poland, are successful shop owners; they and their grown children live a comfortable lifestyle. But that lifestyle is no protection against the onslaught of the Holocaust, which eventually scatters the members of the Kurc family among several continents. Genek, the oldest son, is exiled with his wife to a Siberian gulag. Halina, youngest of all the children, works to protect her family alongside her resistance-fighter husband. Addy, middle child, a composer and engineer before the war breaks out, leaves Europe on one of the last passenger ships, ending up thousands of miles away. Then, too, there are Mila and Felicia, Jakob and Bella, each with their own share of struggles—pain endured, horrors witnessed. Hunter conducted extensive research after learning that her grandfather (Addy in the book) survived the Holocaust. The research shows: her novel is thorough and precise in its details. It’s less precise in its language, however, which frequently relies on cliché. “You’ll get only one shot at this,” Halina thinks, enacting a plan to save her husband. “Don’t botch it.” Later, Genek, confronting a routine bit of paperwork, must decide whether or not to hide his Jewishness. “That form is a deal breaker,” he tells himself. “It’s life and death.” And: “They are low, it seems, on good fortune. And something tells him they’ll need it.” Worse than these stale phrases, though, are the moments when Hunter’s writing is entirely inadequate for the subject matter at hand. Genek, describing the gulag, calls the nearest town “a total shitscape.” This is a low point for Hunter’s writing; elsewhere in the novel, it’s stronger. Still, the characters remain flat and unknowable, while the novel itself is predictable. At this point, more than half a century’s worth of fiction and film has been inspired by the Holocaust—a weighty and imposing tradition. Hunter, it seems, hasn’t been able to break free from her dependence on it.

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56308-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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