An evocative portrait of a lost girl demanding agency even in the face of death itself.

MALVA

The abandoned daughter of a famous poet finds her voice beyond the grave.

This phantasmagoric novel by the celebrated Dutch poet Peeters (Maturity, 2011, etc.) is a strange experience, poetic in word and verse but somewhat hesitant about finding its point. Our narrator is Malva Marina Trinidad del Carmen Reyes, Malvie to her friends. Except the real-life Malva never found her voice; the only child of the legendary poet-diplomat and politician Pablo Neruda was born in 1934 with a severe disability caused by hydrocephalus and died in 1943. Not a single line of Neruda’s work is devoted to the child. Here, she writes her story herself through Peeters, able to pass back and forth through time and space. “Oh Hagar, you’ll find out when your time comes: the hereafter is all about going over old ground,” she confesses. Her “afterparty of the dead" is a colorful one, populated by characters that include Oskar Matzerath, “the droll dwarf with the tin drum from the novel by Günter Grass,” as well as James Joyce’s schizophrenic daughter, Lucia, and Arthur Miller’s son, Daniel, who had Down syndrome and who thinks Malva is trying to posthumously earn her father’s love. She also bonds, in a way, with Socrates (a father figure of sorts) and with the late Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, whom Malva secretly aspires to make her grandmother. Stylistically flamboyant prose may overshadow a sadly common theme as both Malva and Peeters explore what it means for a child to be abandoned by a parent. There is some resonance in making reparations for this long-lost daughter. While there’s not much narrative substance here, Malva’s voice is intriguing, having evolved beyond revenge or anger into a deeper acceptance.

An evocative portrait of a lost girl demanding agency even in the face of death itself.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9997544-0-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: DoppelHouse Press

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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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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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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