The changing language, landscape, and mores of three centuries of American history are depicted with verisimilitude,...


Five parallel stories, from Colonial times to the present, set in Newport, Rhode Island.

The maze of Smith’s (The Law of Miracles, 2011, etc.) title is a feature of a Gilded Age estate that appears in two of the five narratives wound together here, as do other links, like women named Alice, allusions to Henry James, opportunists, closeted gay characters, chess moves, and more. In 2011, we meet a tennis pro named Sandy who is riding on his muscular physique, pleasant personality, and a vintage motorcycle he won in a bet to keep himself going among the rich of Newport. Quickly his complications include sleeping with both a du Pont heiress and another member of her household at Windermere. In 1896, on the same spot, good looks and charm are also the stock in trade of one Franklin Drexel, a secretly gay man who is hoping to butter up a rich widow and score himself a propertied marriage. In 1863, a budding writer who turns out to be Henry James himself is dallying among a similar crowd, but his concealed purpose is not matrimony but rather material for his writing. In 1778, we follow the attempts of a British officer billeted at what is left of occupied Newport to get the attention of a 16-year-old “Jewess” he's obsessed with. Due to his repugnant anti-Semitism, he plans only to wrest her from her father’s protection, deflower her, and cast her aside. In 1692, Prudence Selwyn is just beginning to accept that her father’s ship is not coming back and that she and her little sister, Dorcas, are orphans. She’s 15, her only asset is a young female slave, and their options look very grim indeed. What seems overly complicated at first becomes quite compelling by the end, when the stories alternate in ever shorter flashes toward resolution—though, oddly, only one of them comes to what feels like a satisfying ending.

The changing language, landscape, and mores of three centuries of American history are depicted with verisimilitude, highlighting what doesn't change at all: the aspirations and crimes of the human heart.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2192-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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This new Baldwin novel is told by a 19-year-old black girl named Tish in a New York City ghetto about how she fell in love with a young black man, Fonny. He got framed on a rape charge and she got pregnant before they could marry and move into their loft; but Tish and her family Finance a trip to Puerto Rico to track down the rape victim and rescue Fonny, a sculptor with slanted eyes and treasured independence. The book is anomalous for the 1970's with its Raisin in the Sun wholesomeness. It is sometimes saccharine, but it possesses a genuinely sweet and free spirit too. Along with the reflex sprinkles of hate-whitey, there are powerful showdowns between the two black families, and a Frieze of people who — unlike Fonny's father — gave up and "congregated on the garbage heaps of their lives." The style wobbles as Tish mixes street talk with lyricism and polemic and a bogus kind of Young Adult hesitancy. Baldwin slips past the conflict between fighting the garbage heap and settling into a long-gone private chianti-chisel-and-garret idyll, as do Fonny and Tish and the baby. But Baldwin makes the affirmation of the humanity of black people which is all too missing in various kinds of Superfly and sub-fly novels.

Pub Date: May 24, 1974

ISBN: 0307275930

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1974

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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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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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