While no masterpiece, this work nevertheless contributes in good measure to the current and very welcome revitalization of...

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CALEB'S CROSSING

The NBA-winning Australian-born, now New England author (People of the Book, 2008, etc.) moves ever deeper into the American past.

Her fourth novel’s announced subject is the eponymous Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, a member of the Wampanoag Indian tribe that inhabits Massachusetts’s Great Harbor (a part of Martha’s Vineyard), and the first Native American who will graduate from Harvard College (in 1665). Even as a boy, Caleb is a paragon of sharp intelligence, proud bearing and manly charm, as we learn from the somewhat breathless testimony of Bethia Mayfield, who grows up in Great Harbor where her father, a compassionate and unprejudiced preacher, oversees friendly relations between white settlers and the placid Wampanoag. The story Bethia unfolds is a compelling one, focused primarily on her own experiences as an indentured servant to a schoolmaster who prepares promising students for Harvard; a tense relationship with her priggish, inflexible elder brother Makepeace; and her emotional bond of friendship with the occasionally distant and suspicious Caleb, who, in this novel’s most serious misstep, isn’t really the subject of his own story. Fascinating period details and a steadily expanding plot, which eventually encompasses King Philip’s War, inevitable tensions between Puritan whites and upwardly mobile “salvages,” as well as the compromises unavoidably ahead for Bethia, help to modulate a narrative voice that sometimes teeters too uncomfortably close to romantic cliché. Both Bethia, whose womanhood precludes her right to seek formal education, and the stoical Caleb are very nearly too good to be true. However, Brooks’ knowledgeable command of the energies and conflicts of the period, and particularly her descriptions of the reverence for learning that animates the little world of Harvard and attracts her characters’ keenest longings, carries a persuasive and quite moving emotional charge.

While no masterpiece, this work nevertheless contributes in good measure to the current and very welcome revitalization of the historical novel.

Pub Date: May 3, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-670-02104-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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