A convincing historical tale about love across enemy lines that’s hampered by uneven prose.

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A MOTHERLAND'S DAUGHTER, A FATHERLAND'S SON

A Soviet sniper falls for a German soldier in a novel set during World War II.

Midwood’s (Of Knights and Dogfights, 2019, etc.) latest work of historical fiction opens in 1955 as doctoral candidate Andrea travels to Leningrad to interview a famous wartime sniper named Kira Miloslavskaya. What follows is Kira’s story, starting in 1939, when she goes to Lvov to work as an interpreter for Soviet troops. The temporary alliance between Germany and the U.S.S.R. paves the way for Kira to fall in love with Werner Suss, a Wehrmacht lieutenant. Successive chapters alternate between these two characters’ points of view. The first-person accounts successfully convey the bitter realities of war-torn Europe, although the use of the present tense feels odd. The lovers become engaged and talk of marrying within a year, but the 1941 German invasion of Leningrad changes everything. Kira joins a sniper division, earning the nickname “the Red Death” for her ruthlessness. Meanwhile, Werner and his company travel from Poland into the Soviet Union. He and Kira reunite several times and make love, although they resent each other for their countries’ crimes. Midwood does an admirable job of capturing the harshness of the Russian winter (“the dying afternoon of a hazy, despondent December day”) and battlefield carnage (“I killed with grisly pleasure and slept at night like a child,” Kira reports). However, her prose sometimes succumbs to adjective-heavy overwriting (“the charcoal sky pouring crystals of opalescent powder on the ravaged earth”), and, at times, there’s oddly redundant phrasing (“history faculty worker”; “decisively resolute”) and anachronistic-sounding slang (“Are you crap-heads completely off your rockers?!”). Still, the novel is atmospheric and well-plotted, if overly reliant on coincidences. There’s a pleasing Romeo and Juliet quality to the romance, as it’s unclear if these people, let alone their relationship, will survive the end of the fighting.

A convincing historical tale about love across enemy lines that’s hampered by uneven prose.

Pub Date: March 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-986277-24-2

Page Count: 414

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2019

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A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

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. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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