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LOVE AND FAMINE

Both epic and personal, this novel chronicles two decades of love, loss, history, and culture—and the complex tensions that...

One should add “Politics” to the two abstractions of the title, for Chin's fictional world is infused with the cultural and personal consequences of Mao's Great Leap Forward.

From an early age Dapeng Liu, the narrator, is destined to become an engineer—his father announces this goal for him in 1946, when Dapeng is 10 years old—and eventually he achieves his dream. Along the way, however, he has to negotiate a delicate path of family, love, and especially the volatility of politics, for everything changes with Mao’s defeat of the nationalists in 1949, including education and the system for professional advancement. Political threats are everywhere and in seemingly untoward places—for example, “six engineers and technicians labeled as rightists [are] sent to a labor camp in the Gobi Desert,” and teachers are regularly denounced and punished. Dapeng himself is eventually detained and accused of stealing government documents, though the accusations are false and he is able to resume his professional duties. Against this background, where paranoia seems a logical response, Dapeng falls in love and marries Chuju Wu, whom he has known since childhood, but it is a marriage fraught with difficulty and exacerbated by their geographical distance: Dapeng works as a hydraulic engineer in Beijing, while Chuju stays in her hometown. She eventually becomes involved in a sexual scandal that brings their brief marriage to a sordid close. By the end Dapeng is cultivating a new love relationship and polishing his English skills, with hints that the next phase of his journey might take him out of China. Because the author is an engineer who's lived in the U.S. since 1978, the novel has a particularly autobiographical feel.

Both epic and personal, this novel chronicles two decades of love, loss, history, and culture—and the complex tensions that arise from these forces—during the turbulent Mao era.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-941861-45-5

Page Count: 538

Publisher: Harvard Square Editions

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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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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