Random sharp insights and images are studded inside this leisurely and oddly innocent chronicle of British Gen-X slackers.

THE COLOUR OF MEMORY

Dyer, the prolific British essayist and novelist who now lives in the U.S. and won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Otherwise Known as the Human Condition (2011), published his first novel—an impressionistic, affectionate portrait of a group of 1980s British bohemians—in the U.K. in 1989.

A nameless narrator and five close friends in their mid-20s spend their days eating, drinking, smoking grass, talking and doing as little actual work as possible while living in the Brixton neighborhood of London. The narrator works dead-end marketing research jobs. Freddie, the narrator’s oldest and perhaps closest friend, is a would-be writer who seldom actually writes. Carlton obsesses about keeping his apartment clean. Steranko, whom the narrator envies and wishes he were more like, paints. When the narrator and Steranko both fall for beautiful Foomie, the narrator is not surprised that she chooses Steranko. Or that his own sister, Fran, and Steranko share an attraction. Sexual undercurrents run everywhere, but there is no sordidness and not much actual sex. Friendship is the important currency here. The narrator is a romantic, capturing images of his daily life in what he calls “an album of snaps.” He witnesses a stranger being beaten on the Tube but doesn’t step in; he meets a girl he’s attracted to, then remembers they met months before; he’s mugged but not hurt. He watches moments of random kindness and moments of cruelty. His friends have good and bad times. They discuss Nietzsche and listen to jazz. They live on the dole, getting stoned and wasted regularly. The narrator not only observes, but feels according to the situation: frequently boredom, occasionally fear, very occasionally exhilaration. This is less a plotted novel than a smudged valentine to young-adulthood friendships and the setting where they take place, 1980s Brixton, a slightly seedy, multiethnic district of London populated by immigrants and artistic types who live uneasily side by side.

Random sharp insights and images are studded inside this leisurely and oddly innocent chronicle of British Gen-X slackers.

Pub Date: May 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-55597-677-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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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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