A thoughtful historical novel that’s often hampered by uninspired prose.

CRY EDEN

A Jewish man and his Palestinian wife brace for the impact of the Yom Kippur War in this final volume of Gershowitz’s (Heirs of Eden, 2013, etc.) trilogy.

Noah Greenspan and Alexandra Salaman met in their youth and fell in love despite the cultural divide that separated them—he’s a Jewish American, and she’s originally from Palestine. Now, in 1973, the acrimony between Middle Eastern Arab nations and Israel reaches a boiling point as Egypt and Syria jointly attack the latter in the hopes of gaining control over the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Alexandra, a prominent journalist for the Washington Evening Star, struggles to cover the war objectively, mindful of the ways in which her personal background will influence her readers, who will be looking for hints of bias or betrayal: “I’ve bent over backwards to maintain credibility with those on both sides of the Middle East conflict,” she tells Noah at one point. “We were displaced Palestinians, but I owe my life to the Israelis. For God’s sake, our son, Amos, is named after an Israeli.” Meanwhile, Noah, who’s serving as the chairman of the prominent Jewish Council of Greater Washington, is called upon by Democratic U.S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington state to help pressure President Richard Nixon’s administration to more aggressively support Israel. Meanwhile, a Palestinian terrorist, Omar Samir, who harbors seething resentment toward Alexandra for what he perceives as treachery against her own people, plots to kidnap her 5-year-old son, Amos—who’s named after the aforementioned Mossad agent who once saved her life.  Gershowitz intelligently brings the tumult of the 1973 setting to life, not only capturing the geopolitical tension that roiled the world, but also the complex, specific intramural politics of the United States, Israel, and Egypt. He’s at the top of his game, though, when he portrays the emotional strain that the war puts on Noah and Alexandra’s otherwise happy marriage. She’s shown to be particularly torn, as she’s genuinely devoted to her beleaguered people, but also mindful of the depredations that Israel suffers. The author handles her torment with impressive aplomb while also offering a model of political writing that avoids even a whiff of ideological grandstanding. That said, Gershowitz’s prose can be disappointingly anodyne, often swinging between bland clarity and breathless melodrama. This is particularly true of the dialogue, which manages to be emotionally overwrought and stiltedly earnest at the same time. In response to Alexandra’s unexpected job offer, for example, a journalist responds: “Look, I know I’m just a good Christian girl from Mississippi County, Arkansas, who goes to church on Sundays and the movies on Saturdays, and prays to Jesus every night, and I ain’t travelled hardly anywhere, but, Alexandra...you’re not fucking with me, are you?” Also, the author simply tries to cram too many events into the novel, making it seem dramatically overextended and longer than it should be; for instance, a subplot that revolves around Noah’s business troubles is simply gratuitous. 

A thoughtful historical novel that’s often hampered by uninspired prose. 

Pub Date: July 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72426-044-4

Page Count: 458

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 7, 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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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