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THE SCROLL OF SEDUCTION

An intricate, sexy historical narrative, exploring the triumph of individual will over masculine coercion.

Nicaraguan poet, novelist and memoirist Belli (The Country Under My Skin, 2002, etc.) offers a beguiling feminist take on the frustrated life of a 15th-century Spanish queen.

The tortuous saga of Juana of Castile, daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand, who spent 46 years of her life locked away as a madwoman, is evoked through an illicit modern-day love affair. Now 17, Lucía has been a student at a Madrid boarding school for four years, since her Latin American parents died in a plane crash. Much older Manuel, a professor specializing in the Spanish Renaissance, is obsessed with Juana’s story and much taken by Lucía because she looks remarkably like the queen. Manuel seduces the willing virgin by dressing her in a period costume and mesmerizing her with a longwinded narration of Juana’s life: Beginning with her birth in 1479, the tale takes a dark turn with Juana’s passionate marriage at age 16 to Philippe the Handsome, Archduke of Burgundy, whose ties to the Hapsburg line are politically desirable but later disastrous. The novel moves fluidly between the Renaissance and the present, with both stories narrated in the first person, as if Lucía is indeed possessed by Juana. The Spanish princess bears many children for Philippe and overlooks his infidelities while she grows increasingly isolated living away from her family. After a series of unexpected deaths, Juana is in line for succession as queen of Castile but is thwarted and imprisoned through the machinations of her husband, father and son (who became Holy Roman Emperor Charles V). In the present, young Lucía becomes pregnant and is ensconced in Manuel’s childhood home, where his Aunt Águeda watches over her. Also surveying Lucía are the ghosts of Manuel’s ancestors, the Denias, who were appointed to guard Juana but ended up looting her effects. Belli’s historical savvy and skillful use of novelistic devices render these intertwined tales powerfully compelling.

An intricate, sexy historical narrative, exploring the triumph of individual will over masculine coercion.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-083312-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Rayo/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

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. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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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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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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