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GALAPAGOS REGAINED

Prolix and period-appropriate language lends humor and an arch, Thackeray-esque tone but palls after hundreds of pages...

Following in Darwin’s footsteps, an actress leads an expedition to Galapagos.

Morrow’s picaresque novel, set circa 1850, is intended to be rollicking but ends up simply tedious. Chloe Bathurst, who specializes in ingénue roles in some of London’s most lurid melodramas, loses her employ through a comic series of events and, by an even quirkier twist, is hired by Charles Darwin as a zookeeper to live specimens he brought back to England. When Chloe learns of the Shelley Prize, whereby the late poet’s followers will award a large sum to whomever can prove the existence—or not—of God, she swipes a précis of Darwin’s longer treatise on evolution and, through yet another improbable turn, is commissioned by the Shelley Society to head for Galapagos to prove Darwin’s theories (which she has misrepresented as her own). In her party are her cardsharp twin brother, Algernon, an episcopal cleric, Chadwick, a rakish ex-pirate, Dartworthy, a dissolute sea captain, etc.; almost as if one of her melodramas had been transposed to the high seas. After being shipwrecked, Chloe’s expedition finds itself on a barge in the Amazon jungle, where it suffers attrition thanks to piranhas and an anaconda snake. After a bout of malaria, Chloe gets religion and almost abandons her quest, but then Chadwick informs her that a rival church-sponsored expedition is on its way to the Galapagos to exterminate every tortoise, lizard and iguana. Occasionally Morrow cuts away to that expedition’s progress and also to another candidate for the prize who is traveling the Middle East in search of Noah’s Ark. When Chloe and her crew get bogged down in the Peruvian rubber wars, despite their noble aims of rescuing natives enslaved on the latex plantations, readers too may be tempted to abandon the quest. 

Prolix and period-appropriate language lends humor and an arch, Thackeray-esque tone but palls after hundreds of pages wherein the plot flags and the characters never truly reveal themselves.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-05401-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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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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