In equal parts passionate and stylistically confined, an ambitious effort that never quite soars beyond its method.

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BLOODLINES

After Dear Future (1996), D’Aguiar exhibits a decline—of execution, not passion—in this verse-novel about a black-white love affair in the slave world of the Civil War era.

When a white plantation son rapes a young black slave, the result is a blossoming of love that might never have been expected but that grows and flourishes as doomed love affairs always have and always will. Impossible that the lovers remain in the South, Faith and Christy make a try for freedom in the north, turning to the services of the rustic but dedicated idealists and hermit-like love-couple Tom and Stella—but when Tom paddles them down river under cover of night, a vicious ambush awaits them, and the couple’s panicked attempt to flee ends only in a gruesome scene of Faith being repeatedly raped, Christy forced to watch, after which the two are separated forever. Christy—starting with his fighting each of the rapists in turn—drifts into the pitifully numbing life of a professional boxer while Faith, dying in childbirth (she’s 17), bears the orphan son (“My earthly father white, / my mother, black”) who subsequently tells this entire agonized tale. In some stretches, D’Aguiar manages to maintain an intensity that lets the reader forget the artifice of the whole being told in eight-line stanzas—most especially, perhaps, in the Civil War section (“history is shelves of human spines in the dark”)—but elsewhere the story slows to all but a stop while an increasingly hyperbolized rhetoric fails to take up the slack (“avoiding the whip, stick and chain is their goal, / with their skin as a badge of anxiety”) and tortured rhymes take over (“woe was me, / I was without a mom and dad, have pity”), or feminine rhymes become inadvertently risible (“a crack in the armature / invisible to untrained eyes, that feeds / on our discontent and gives it imprimatur”).

In equal parts passionate and stylistically confined, an ambitious effort that never quite soars beyond its method.

Pub Date: July 25, 2001

ISBN: 1-58567-156-8

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2001

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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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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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