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

LYDIA CASSATT READING THE MORNING PAPER

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2001

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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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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