This slow-moving love story provides a glimpse of the Industrial Age in western Pennsylvania.

WEALTH AND PRIVILEGE

A historical novel set in late-19th-century Pittsburgh.

Watts’ debut tells the story of Thomas Baldwin, who goes into the family iron business. He falls almost instantly in love with the unconventional and beautiful Regina Waring, a married businesswoman. He marries Meredith, however, whom he can barely tolerate after she, with some coaching from her mother, tricks Thomas into a compromising situation. Thomas’ inability to stop the sham marriage is more an indicator of his passivity than the social mores of the time. What follows is a life in which Thomas throws himself into his business while failing to so much as consummate his marriage. A partnership with the Warings allows him to spend more time with Regina, and the two become friends as well as business partners. Mr. Waring dies in an industrial accident, and Thomas comforts Regina. When the grief threatens to overtake her, he insists that she travel to Europe even as he regrets sending her away from him. The long, slow love story builds to an inevitable conclusion with a dramatic, somewhat abrupt ending. The novel is rich in historical detail and facts, along with many real-life historical figures. Occasionally, the need to reference such facts forces the characters into stilted conversations, such as when Regina explains the Comstock Laws to Thomas, though for the most part, the facts blend well with the storyline. Thomas is a difficult character to like; he’s spineless, and while his hatred for his wife is not without cause, he seems to overlook the fact that he did allow himself to be lured into the marriage. During one tirade, Thomas tells Meredith, “Ignorami such as yourself aren’t generally equipped with the mental capacity for much comprehension, are they? Every glimpse I get of your vapid countenance is a mnemonic that I’ve been saddled with an imbecile.” That said, he displays some character growth and ultimately redeems himself.

This slow-moving love story provides a glimpse of the Industrial Age in western Pennsylvania.

Pub Date: Dec. 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-1490934518

Page Count: 408

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2014

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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