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THE JUDAS FIELD

A NOVEL OF THE CIVIL WAR

Carefully written and nuanced, akin to Frederick Busch’s Night Inspector as much as to Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels.

A well-realized vision of war’s hell, ghosts and all.

Cass Wakefield sees dead people. So do lots of folks in Lost Camp, Miss., whose sons went off to fight in the war for Texas independence and returned in body bags, a later generation following them to places such as Shiloh and Gettysburg. Cass, the protagonist of Bahr’s (The Year of Jubilo, 2000) third Civil War tale, has survived the war only to find himself decidedly down on his luck two decades later, spending his days as a handgun salesman and his free time shooting rats in alleyways after the dubious glories of combat and the even more questionable virtues of being a “night rider,” a proto-Klansman. Now 55, with “all but four of his teeth,” he is called to duty again when a woman he once courted—almost—prevails upon him to travel to Franklin, Tenn., and “find her long-dead kinfolk and bring them home.” With his comrade-in-arms and constant companion Lucian, Cass guides her to the killing ground, occasioning a series of hallucinatory journeys back into his own unhappy experiences in battle. If his phantasmic visitations are reminiscent of The Sixth Sense, Bahr’s depictions of combat are worthy of Stephen Crane, as doomed rebels march toward distant metal-spitting treelines, “each man telling himself that surely he would see tomorrow,” and return “crying out in pain, in grief, lying in heaps and piles or wandering aimlessly through the yard like ghosts.” Though Alison Sansing’s kin have lain a-moldering in the grave for all those years, the battle and the war are not yet over; Bahr’s tale ends on a surprisingly violent note that points to why, a century and a half later, the Civil War is still held as a subject of living memory in many parts of the South.

Carefully written and nuanced, akin to Frederick Busch’s Night Inspector as much as to Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-8050-6739-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2006

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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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THE UNSEEN

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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