A powerful novel that’s especially relevant in the current era of Middle Eastern displacement.

INTERVALS OF SILENCE

This story within a story deals principally with the Turkish genocide of Armenians more than a century ago and the displacement that ensued.

Debut novelist Saroyan’s story begins in the present day in Istanbul with two former lovers, Armenian-American Mari Alexander and Turkish Selim Bayrak, who reconnect over a startling discovery: the diary of Ani Noroyan. It details her marriage to a master goldsmith and, as danger looms, her sending her 15-year-old son, Paul, on his own to Istanbul in 1895. There, he’s taken in by Taki Economides, a Greek executive chef in the German Embassy. Paul rises rapidly due to his obvious talent at preparing food. During this charmed period, he falls in love and marries the beautiful Vasso, an orphan whom the Economides have also taken in—but from the start, there’s something worrisome about the young woman. Eventually, anti-Armenian terror spreads from the eastern provinces to Istanbul, and Paul and his growing family must flee. A stopover in Marseille, France, is enticing, but America, the promised land, beckons. There, however, they experience one crushing hardship after another. Paul doesn’t speak English, and he’s forced to swallow his justifiable pride and start at the bottom of a new career, working at a textile job. Meanwhile, Vasso sulks; she refuses to learn English and won’t lift a finger to help the family—but she will seek out men to salve her vanity. Saroyan effectively draws on elements of her own Greek and Armenian family’s immigrant experiences while providing details of life in Istanbul—specifically, all the sights, sounds, aromas, rituals, the rambunctious family life in the Economides’ compound. She also depicts all the love that Paul has for Vasso—love that makes the days in America exquisitely painful as Paul begins to crumble under the strain. Along the way, she makes readers realize that although Vasso was troubled from an early age, it was really geopolitical forces beyond their control—that bitter gift of fate—that did her and Paul in.

A powerful novel that’s especially relevant in the current era of Middle Eastern displacement.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-979763-18-9

Page Count: 308

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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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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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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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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