Simons’ compassion, sincerity and subtle style impress.

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THE ENGLISH GERMAN GIRL

Simons (The Pure, 2012) tells the World War II story of a young German-Jewish émigré in England.

In 1930s Berlin, Jewish surgeon Otto Klein and his family—wife Inga, eldest child Heinrich, toddler Hedi and middle child Rosa—are increasingly aware of the anti-Jewish sentiment sweeping the country and are subject to the government’s restrictive laws. But Otto refuses to believe this is a lasting threat. Even when police official and family friend Wilhelm Krützfeld tries to warn the family they’re on a list to be targeted, Otto refuses his help. Subsequently, on Kristallnacht, Otto and Heinrich are rounded up and detained in a concentration camp. Inga and the girls escape, although Rosa barely avoids capture when she flees from a former family employee. After Otto and Heinrich are freed (thanks to Krützfeld’s help), Otto knows he needs to find a means to get his family out of Germany. After trying to obtain visas at various embassies, to no avail, Otto and Inga seize the opportunity to secure a seat on a Kindertransport train to England for one of the children. The parents choose 15-year-old Rosa, who bears the responsibility of finding safe passage so the rest of the family can join her. Once in England, Rosa is sponsored by Otto’s ultrareligious cousin Gerald and his wife, Mimi, who treats Rosa like a servant. Unlike his parents, 18-year-old Samuel is more sympathetic and tries to help Rosa in her effort to seek employment and visas for her family. After fruitless months of searching, she finally travels to the home of Baron de Rothschild, who agrees to help. What follows are definitive moments in Rosa’s life as she taps into her own strength of character, pursues her dreams, weathers personal losses and endures the inevitable hardships of war. Simons provides excellent details that enhance the credibility of his plot and provide substance to his characters.

Simons’ compassion, sincerity and subtle style impress.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-62636-074-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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