Not flawless, but certainly heartfelt, and searing in its condemnation. On his last page, Nappi quotes Christopher Marlowe:...

ECHOES FROM THE INFANTRY

A moving first novel about a courageous soldier who fought in WWII and grew to hate it.

Twentysomething James McCleary, foot soldier in the 95th Infantry Division, was “a typical dogface,” as his best friend puts it. Having fought through most of the war, including the horrific Battle of the Bulge, he finishes in the hands of the enemy, a POW. The war over, he returns to Far Rockaway, N.Y., and to his sweetheart, Maddie Brandt. He marries Maddie and fathers three sons, to whom he remains an enigma all his life. It was the war—physically intact, he’s a casualty nonetheless. What he saw and what he did never leaves him, making it impossible to perform the roles society has assigned him. “I don’t think I can remember one time when I saw him laugh,” one of the boys says to Maddie, a complaint shared by all three siblings. But it’s John, the oldest and most sensitive, who suffers most from a father missing in action. And it’s John who, at last, gains an insight into the nature and extent of the war wounds. After Maddie’s death, the McClearys put the house up for sale. Emptying the attic, John finds a packet of letters from James, a young soldier, to Maddie, the girl he loves and left behind. In alternating scenes, The author shows James’s view of the war and John’s reaction to it. The son gets to see his father in a light that astonishes him—not the shadowy, withdrawn figure that embittered his growing up, but someone vividly alive, someone as afraid as he was brave, someone remarkable.

Not flawless, but certainly heartfelt, and searing in its condemnation. On his last page, Nappi quotes Christopher Marlowe: “Accurst be he who first invented war.”

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-312-33272-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005

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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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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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