An unusual and passionate re-creation of the terrible tragedy of the Bolshevik Revolution and the timeless literary culture...

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CHIMES OF A LOST CATHEDRAL

The second installment of a young poet’s trials in war-torn Russia, 1919-1921.

In another massive tome, Fitch (The Revolution of Marina M., 2017, etc.) picks up where she left off—her heroine, Marina, once a bourgeois princess in a refined intellectual family in Petrograd, is now 19, pregnant, and desperately seeking work, shelter, and proletarian papers in the outlying burg of Tikhvin. Not long after she gets herself situated, her lusty nature gets her in trouble again—and then her long-lost poet husband (not the father of the child, unfortunately) rolls into town on an agit-prop train. Rescued from rural tedium, she’s off with the actors, sailors, and soldiers riding the rails. Up on the roof of one of the cars, she glories in a “soar of spirits I never expected to feel again.…Ah, the rush, the sweep of the horizon, this enormous country headed into its future! I felt like I was riding time itself, the sun on my face, the freshness of the fields, the great green expanse of Russia in the blue bowl of her heavens.” This will be one of her only happy moments in more than 700 pages of tumultuous plot, but no matter what grisly doom and miserable fate befall her, Marina continues to think big, in swathes of grand prose and plenty of quoted poetry. After she gives birth, she makes her way back to Petrograd, a city starving, collapsing, and writhing in agony. But on the plus side, she meets all the great writers of the period and is embraced as a promising new talent. The writer and activist Maxim Gorky plays a major role in the story; Blok, Mayakovsky, Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Gumilev, and many others are also on the scene. This part of the book seems a bit special interest for the general reader of historical fiction but will be a treat for fans of Russian literature. Since the first volume began with a prologue set in 1932 and this one only gets us to 1921, one wonders if Marina’s story will end here.

An unusual and passionate re-creation of the terrible tragedy of the Bolshevik Revolution and the timeless literary culture it produced.

Pub Date: July 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-51005-9

Page Count: 752

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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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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