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LYDIA CASSATT READING THE MORNING PAPER

A moving and intensely introspective portrait of the way art is created and life relinquished.

Shaded with intimations of mortality, a second novel touches tenderly on the relationship between Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt (1844?–1926) and her ailing older sister Lydia. Chessman (Ohio Angels, 1999) uses five of Cassatt’s paintings and their circumstances to shape her story.

Lydia, who suffers both from Bright’s disease and from twinges of remorse at a life less fulfilled than her free-spirited sister’s, is happy to pose for May (Mary) when asked and when able: most importantly, it gives the sisters time to enjoy the closeness they’ve long shared. For May, Lydia is both confidante and protector, possessed of a calm and sensible demeanor that the artist admires and relies upon. For Lydia, May is the one who, with enviable fullness, is truly experiencing this life of theirs in Paris of the late 1870s. In addition to her admiration for May’s bohemian ways and the growing luster of her artistic reputation, May’s friend Edgar Degas, who visits their sittings frequently and with whom May is increasingly intimate, reminds Lydia of her own romantic possibilities, lost on the battlefields of the Civil War. But Lydia is also mindful of her decline in ways that none of her family, already scarred by several untimely deaths, can acknowledge—not even May, who nurses her sister through one bedridden bout of fever after another and whose paintings of her Lydia scans intensely after they’ve been finished, as if they were telling her future. The artist and her muse move along increasingly separate paths, one to greater renown, the other to more debilitating illness, but each in her heart knows how much she has gained from the other.

A moving and intensely introspective portrait of the way art is created and life relinquished.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-58322-272-3

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Seven Stories

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2001

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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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