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WEALTH AND PRIVILEGE

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

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 19, 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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