Impressive familial saga set against the throes of Jamaican history.


The One Way Out

Watson uses one family to chart the history of Jamaica to the present and beyond.

The history of Jamaica plays out in the background of this generational account of the Johnson family. The novel follows the Johnson clan from slavery to political prominence through the ups and downs of the island’s shifting society. Their saga mirrors the tensions—between the subsistence and ambition, rebellion and assimilation—that characterized the development of Jamaica as a self-articulating society. From the upheaval and fragility of the 19th century to the corporate structures and class aspirations of the 20th to the political machinations of the early 21st (including a glimpse into the future 2030s), the Johnsons attempt to succeed in a system that, while dynamic, continues to bear striking similarities to the original plantation model. There are still haves and have-nots, gatekeepers and collaborators, utopian dreams and brutal realities. As said by narrator and Johnson descendant Brianna Bedward, who’s introduced in the novel’s framing device: “To the extent that the fortunes of the Johnson family ran parallel to those of the island of Jamaica, this is also a story about Jamaica, and inasmuch as Jamaica is a part of the world, it is a story about the world.” Watson admirably weaves the Johnsons’ personal narratives into the larger happenings of Jamaican life, and the cameos by historical figures and institutions make the novel seem an authentic part of the island’s biography. The chapters sometimes drag as less-important decades are accounted for and various offspring emerge and are dispatched, but the overall arc of the family is satisfying in the way a single protagonist’s might be. The future-set sections are perhaps overly optimistic (though fun), and didacticism is always apparent: e.g., “The culture of the slave society promoted promiscuity” since slave owners and masters “hoped that in this way the women might have more children and every child born in slavery became the asset of his mother’s owner.” Yet the story is engrossing enough that its flaws are largely forgivable.

Impressive familial saga set against the throes of Jamaican history.

Pub Date: July 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4908-7849-2

Page Count: 260

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2015

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These letters from some important executive Down Below, to one of the junior devils here on earth, whose job is to corrupt mortals, are witty and written in a breezy style seldom found in religious literature. The author quotes Luther, who said: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." This the author does most successfully, for by presenting some of our modern and not-so-modern beliefs as emanating from the devil's headquarters, he succeeds in making his reader feel like an ass for ever having believed in such ideas. This kind of presentation gives the author a tremendous advantage over the reader, however, for the more timid reader may feel a sense of guilt after putting down this book. It is a clever book, and for the clever reader, rather than the too-earnest soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1942

ISBN: 0060652934

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1943

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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.


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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