A thoughtful delineation of characters and a sensitive study of a culture and an era.

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THE PARIS PHOTO

Gabin’s (American Women in Gilded Age London, 2006, etc.) character-driven novel is set in Paris in the 1940s and present day.

Ben Gordon is pushing 30 and itching for real life to begin. He enlists in the good fight against Hitler, gets engaged to Sylvia Stern, a nice girl from the neighborhood, and is off to France, assigned to a military postal unit. He was asked to look up a family in Paris, which is how he meets Simone Daval; her mother, Mira; and her young son, Guy. Simone’s husband and her father, we eventually learn, were lured away and killed in the camps. The Germans are now on the run, but trauma remains. With their shared Jewish heritage—they get by in Yiddish—a strong bond develops between Ben and the Davals. Ben, a real mensch, tries to fill the void as a father figure for Guy and, inevitably, becomes something more than a friend to Simone. But he can’t bring himself to confess that he’s engaged. He is transferred to Frankfurt, and that is the last that the Davals hear from him. In Part 2, Judith Gordon and her brother, Michael, are going through their father’s effects after his funeral when Judith finds Ben’s photographs taken in Paris. Ben married Sylvia and had a good life, but like many veterans, he never talked about his Army days, and Judith is intrigued. She eventually tracks Guy down. He is thrilled to make contact but is adamant about not living in the too-painful past. However, the book explores their atypical connection. Gabin’s is a quietly powerful book, and Part 2 is especially engaging—a study in long-lasting hurt. She is not a flashy writer—no rococo flights to exploit and cheapen the pain. When Guy writes, “Your letter…brought back so many memories. It was a sorrowful and also a joyful time,” this is closer to Hemingway than to Faulkner—as it should be. Guy is a gracious host but gets angry when Judith presses him too much about the past. He can’t forget the pain of his stunted childhood, the Holocaust, the French collaborators, and his mixed feelings now for Ben, the “father” who abandoned him. But he refuses to wallow in it. Judith captures him perfectly as “this witty, sardonic, damaged man who drinks too much.” The mystery of Ben’s behavior remains. Did he realize that he wasn’t the adventurer he’d hoped to be? Did he use his promise to Sylvia as a cop-out? We only know that he made a comfortable living for the family as an accountant and that he and Sylvia retired to Florida—almost a parody of the dutiful burgher’s life. This, Gabin seems to be saying, is how culture and experience shape a life. Ben perhaps was, in the final analysis, the typical well-meaning but naïve Yank.

A thoughtful delineation of characters and a sensitive study of a culture and an era.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-692-09751-9

Page Count: 506

Publisher: Wisdom House Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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