A meticulously reconstructed, moving saga of Jewish life in a terrible and hopeful century.

REMEMBER THIS DREAM

A Jewish clan battles hardship and upheaval in America and wartime Poland in this sprawling historical epic.

Like many Polish Jews in 1911, Anna Appelavitch can’t wait to leave the grinding poverty and anti-Semitism of the shtetl behind, so the decision to take her children and join her husband Yakov in America seems like a no-brainer. Alas, after a horrendous crossing in steerage–her only respite from the storm-tossed dank and vomit is a quickie with a handsome ship’s officer that bequeaths her a lifetime of secret fantasies–the grim factory city of Baltimore proves anything but a promised land. To make ends meet, Anna and her eldest daughters follow Yakov into the garment industry for long hours of backbreaking labor at meager wages, a plight they feistily resist by helping to organize a union. Decades of want and insecurity, drawn with a sharp realism by the author, ensue, poisoning Anna’s marriage to the bitter, withdrawn Yakov and threatening the family with dissolution. Still, bad as industrial America is, it isn’t Poland, where war, famine and persecution stalk Anna’s sister Dvoyra and her family. They persevere through a series of crises while debating Zionist politics and agonizing over whether to stay or go as the threat of Hitler’s Germany looms; staying too long, Dvoyra finds herself in a ghetto where she bears witness to Nazi arrogance and atrocities. At times the novel seems like a pageant: battles and elections pass by in the background, historical figures walk onstage for brief cameos and major characters die off abruptly or disappear in the tide of events. Fortunately, Gershowitz peoples the story with lively characters torn between the desire for a better life and the pull of family roots; their travails feel real even as they drift along in a flood of calamity.

A meticulously reconstructed, moving saga of Jewish life in a terrible and hopeful century.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4392-0303-3

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2010

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

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. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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