A spirited tale about finding a new place in the world.

The Fly Strip

Banta tells the story of a teenage orphan struggling to start over in small-town Indiana in this debut novel.

It’s the autumn of 1960. When his parents and brother are killed suddenly in a car accident, 17-year-old Malcolm “Weed” Clapper is forced to move from Scranton, Pennsylvania, to live with his grandmother in a tiny town in Indiana. With an injured leg that restricts his movement, Weed is self-conscious around his new peers, particularly the girls—and women—at school. There’s much about his new home that confuses him, like the fact that the local homeless man keeps calling him “Joey” or the strange thumping sounds his grandmother makes at night. In addition, Weed encounters difficulties acclimating to the entrenched racism that categorizes the opinions of his new neighbors, which ranges from a stuffy disdain for blacks to a violent hatred of them. They warn Weed, in friendly and not-so-friendly ways, against mixing with the town’s African-American population. When Weed learns of the strong Ku Klux Klan presence in the area, he is tempted to leave town, but his relationship with a young English teacher makes him reluctant to do so. Weed sets to work befriending the town’s outcasts and untouchables, but when the Klan begins to target one of his new friends, he must decide just how committed he is to his new life—since standing up for his beliefs may just put that life at risk. The novel’s structure is epistolary, told through a series of journal entries—“I figure Kerouac writes,” explains Weed, “and it’s a known fact that he’s cool”—the perfect format for the hero’s jokey, irreverent tone. Through Weed, Banta displays her gift for fresh, evocative language: “Cotton’s rolling chuckle came from so deep inside his chest you would have thought he started it yesterday.” Nothing in the plot or the characters feels entirely original, from the sensitive narrator hiding behind derision to the collection of colorful townsfolk. But Banta’s versions are well-executed and mostly endearing, and while the ending perhaps is a little too tidy to be believable, it still manages to satisfy.

A spirited tale about finding a new place in the world.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-943847-40-2

Page Count: 284

Publisher: Waldorf Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules...

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A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel by a Bolshevik tribunal for writing a poem deemed to encourage revolt, Count Alexander Rostov nonetheless lives the fullest of lives, discovering the depths of his humanity.

Inside the elegant Metropol, located near the Kremlin and the Bolshoi, the Count slowly adjusts to circumstances as a "Former Person." He makes do with the attic room, to which he is banished after residing for years in a posh third-floor suite. A man of refined taste in wine, food, and literature, he strives to maintain a daily routine, exploring the nooks and crannies of the hotel, bonding with staff, accepting the advances of attractive women, and forming what proves to be a deeply meaningful relationship with a spirited young girl, Nina. "We are bound to find comfort from the notion that it takes generations for a way of life to fade," says the companionable narrator. For the Count, that way of life ultimately becomes less about aristocratic airs and privilege than generosity and devotion. Spread across four decades, this is in all ways a great novel, a nonstop pleasure brimming with charm, personal wisdom, and philosophic insight. Though Stalin and Khrushchev make their presences felt, Towles largely treats politics as a dark, distant shadow. The chill of the political events occurring outside the Metropol is certainly felt, but for the Count and his friends, the passage of time is "like the turn of a kaleidoscope." Not for nothing is Casablanca his favorite film. This is a book in which the cruelties of the age can't begin to erase the glories of real human connection and the memories it leaves behind.

A masterly encapsulation of modern Russian history, this book more than fulfills the promise of Towles' stylish debut, Rules of Civility (2011).

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-02619-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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