A skillful and affecting combination of literary drama and historical research.

SURVIVING THE DEADLY UPHEAVAL

A HISTORICAL NOVEL BASED ON TRUE STORIES OF MANY PEOPLE HAVING ENDURED THE GREAT FORGOTTEN EXPULSION

After the conclusion of World War II, a German Bohemian family is forced from its home in Czechoslovakia and beset by hardships in this debut novel.

During the war, invading German forces annexed Czech territories, causing considerable resentment against local German Bohemians and German Czechs. In 1945, the war is over, and following seven years of German occupation, the acrimony “had turned ugly, brutal, and violent.” Hans and Mattie Novak, two German Bohemians, fret anxiously over their increasingly precarious future and prepare for the worst-case scenario—a relocation, which would be daunting for them and their four kids. However, the decision is made for them when Hans is brutally beaten by local policemen and ordered to leave his beloved home immediately. Author Albert poignantly chronicles the harrowing plight of the Novaks, who attempt to cross through the forest into Austria and take temporary lodging at an American refugee camp. This refuge is short-lived, however, as the camp is ravaged by a typhus epidemic, and the disease nearly costs Mattie her life. The family finally makes their way to the home of Hans’ best friend, Heinrich. But Heinrich later savagely rapes and beats Mattie, which plunges her into a deep depression. In lucid, unflinching language, Albert ably captures the burdens of the Novaks’ exile over the course of the book. The author also affectingly limns the historical period in which they lived, as well as the ethnic divisions that roiled Czechoslovakia in the wake of the Second World War—and especially the hatred of a people that “wanted fierce revenge—cruel, violent revenge—and all with the blessing of President Beneš’ retribution decree.” Overall, Albert delivers a moving tale that’s emotionally authentic and historically astute.

A skillful and affecting combination of literary drama and historical research.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5255-5719-4

Page Count: 168

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2020

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Groff’s trademarkworthy sentences bring vivid buoyancy to a magisterial story.

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MATRIX

Set in early medieval Europe, this book paints a rousing portrait of an abbess seizing and holding power.

After the spicy, structurally innovative Fates and Furies (2015), Groff spins back 850 years to a girl on a horse: “She rides out of the forest alone. Seventeen years old, in the cold March drizzle, Marie who comes from France.” The inspiration is a historical figure, Marie de France, considered the first woman to write poetry in French. Groff gives her a fraught, lifelong, sexually charged tie to Eleanor of Aquitaine. A matrix, which comes from the Latin for mother, builds implacably between Eleanor and Marie. But in the first chapter, the queen rids the court of an ungainly, rustic Marie by installing her in a remote English convent, home to 20 starving nuns. The sisters hang the traveler’s clothes in the communal privy, where “the ammonia of the piss kills the beasties”—the lice. After a long sulk, Marie rouses herself to examine the abbey’s disastrous ledgers, mount her warhorse, and gallop forth to turn out the family most egregiously squatting on convent land. News spreads and the rents come in, “some grumbling but most half proud to have a woman so tough and bold and warlike and royal to answer to now.” The novel is at its best through Marie's early years of transforming the ruined, muddy convent, bit by bit, into a thriving estate, with a prosperous new scriptorium, brimming fields, and spilling flocks, protected by a forest labyrinth and spies abroad. In this way, Marie forestalls the jealous priests and village men plotting against her. Readers of Arcadia (2012), Groff’s brilliantly evocative hippie commune novel, will remember her gift for conjuring life without privacy. And she knows a snake always lurks within Eden. The cloister witnesses lust, sex, pregnancy, peril. Marie has visions of the Virgin Mary, 19 in all, but these passages stay flat. Medieval mystics, unsurprisingly, write better about mysticism. The gesture toward a lost theology based on Marie’s visions amounts to weak tea.

Groff’s trademarkworthy sentences bring vivid buoyancy to a magisterial story.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59463-449-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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