A complex story exploring the moral repercussions of acting or not acting.

THE VOYAGE HOME

Another well-researched psychologically astute novel from Rogers (Island, 2000, etc.).

An intriguing counterpoint is set up here between the present and the past. In 1999, Anne Harrington is taking the body of her father, a vicar, by ship from Nigeria to England for burial; and, while aboard the ship, she reads her father’s Nigeria journals, set in the early 1960s, when he was a missionary there. Wandering at night on the ship, Anne discovers Joseph, a Nigerian stowaway, who leads her to his deathly ill pregnant wife and begs her to keep their presence secret. Anne’s naiveté leads to disastrous results. She tries to help, giving the woman antibiotics and enlisting the first mate—who, seizing upon his advantage, beds her and then tells her the whole crew knows she is a “slag.” Shamed, and with no recourse, she’s incapable of finding out what has happened to the woman and her unborn child; all she knows is that crew members hate stowaways because they’re fined if a ship is found carrying them. Anne doesn’t reveal where Joseph is, and hopes that he has survived the voyage. Meanwhile, in her father’s journal, she discovers his secrets: after she was born, he had gotten a Nigerian woman pregnant and been removed from his position; her mother had had an affair with his boss; this is why he never visited them after the divorce. Given a second chance, he ends up in Biafra, caring for the mangled soldiers and starving children of the civil war. Back home in England, Anne is able to track down Joseph, who has indeed made it to England, but he wants nothing to do with her. Filled with guilt, she suffers a breakdown. In a final twist, four years later, she ends up married, submissive once again, and struggling to bear a child. In her father’s journal, she discovers a final secret: on his last day alive, her father learned that his Nigerian daughter had been sold into prostitution in Italy.

A complex story exploring the moral repercussions of acting or not acting.

Pub Date: July 20, 2004

ISBN: 1-58567-509-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2004

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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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