TEXAS

A NOVEL

This is a long story, the whole history of Texas, from its very beginnings, as far back as 1540 when the Spanish nobleman Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led an expedition from Mexico to search the northern wilds for gold. And while much of the story is interesting, some of it is quite boring. Nevertheless, the story will go on. And on. Never before has Michener been so bold about using his muted blend of fiction/fact to instruct. We are presented from the outset with a (fictional) state Task Force, assigned to determine how best the complex, colorful weave of Texas history can be presented to its schoolchildren of today. As we meet the members of the Task Force, it quickly becomes apparent that each represents a Texas stereotype: e.g., the oilman, the rancher, the Southern lady, the Spanish descendant. And, indeed, as Michener repeatedly interrupts the musings of the Task Force to present fictionalized vignettes from different epochs of Texas history, we meet each member's ancestors as they stumble into, and flourish within, the confines of the Lone Star State's borders. For example, the 21 st-removed ancestor of Task Force member Efrain Garza accompanies the Spanish as a muleteer on that early expedition. Another Garza is at the side of the Mexican Generalissimo Santa Anna as he lays siege to the Alamo. We follow the sweep of Texas history through the years of early settlement, the founding of the Republic, the taming of the Wild West, the great Indian wars, the Civil War, the establishment of the cotton, cattle and oil industries. We live the beginnings of the Texas Rangers, even thrill to the revolutionary introduction of barbed wire to ranch life, and delight in the contemporary vagaries of the real-estate boom, that last frontier in which a man can still make his millions if he has the courage of his speculations. Such real-life heroes as Jim Bowie and Sam Houston are tossed into the mix with their fictional counterparts, and credibility is often strained with the run of coincidences (in a state as large as Texas, how is it that the ancestors of Task Force members manage to stumble over each other at every historical turn?). But the generational connections do serve to keep the story moving. While some will be offended by Michener's politics—he takes care to warn, for instance, that the surge of illegal immigration from Mexico could one day overcome the state—most will find he has reduced the sprawl of Texas history to a good read. Overall, Michener tames Texas, and if in doing so he flattens some of its flair, he presents its history as a comprehensive and readable whole.

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1985

ISBN: 0375761411

Page Count: 1120

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1985

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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