Shaara’s admittedly impressive command of the details serves less to illuminate a titanic struggle than to keep readers...

TO THE LAST MAN

A NOVEL OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR

Military novelist turns to WWI and fits its sprawling destruction into his usual flat template.

After two Civil War sequels to his late father’s The Killer Angels and a pair of American Revolution novels, Shaara (The Glorious Cause, 2002, etc.) leaps to the 20th century, and, true to form, presents a cast of characters chosen for their ability to be in exciting places at exciting times, not to mention a tendency to declaim at some length about the epic struggle they’re undertaking. Of the four main players, though, only one, American private Roscoe Temple, is involved in the trench warfare that’s the hallmark of WWI. Most of the story’s turgid first half is taken up by the at-a-distance conflict between Lafayette Escadrille ace Raoul Lufbery and Germany’s Baron von Richthofen, something that could have been thrilling at a third the length but here seems only to mark time until 1917, when American ground forces finally join the fray. At that point, the fourth character, American Expeditionary Force commander General Pershing, comes on stage, the better to expound at length to himself (in interior monologues) and to subordinates (like a young General Patton) about strategy. Beyond some canned textbook tidbits, there’s not much in the way of historical analysis here—unlike his father Michael, Jeff has little knack for rendering a historical period’s mindset or the inner forces that drive its people—the better to churn out more square-jawed action for the armchair general set, who will likely snap this one up as well. A reader gets no sense of the generation-destroying despair that this war’s vast and mechanized slaughter unleashed. Instead, there’s only a disturbingly cozy regurgitation of military historical clichés leading up to the glorious moment when America saves the day (again).

Shaara’s admittedly impressive command of the details serves less to illuminate a titanic struggle than to keep readers comfortably at a distance.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-345-46134-7

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2004

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 10

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK

One of Kentucky’s last living “Blue People” works as a traveling librarian in 1930s Appalachia.

Cussy Mary Carter is a 19-year-old from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. She was born with a rare genetic condition, and her skin has always been tinged an allover deep blue. Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner who relentlessly attempts to marry her off. Unfortunately, with blue skin and questionable genetics, Cussy is a tough sell. Cussy would rather keep her job as a pack-horse librarian than keep house for a husband anyway. As part of the new governmental program aimed at bringing reading material to isolated rural Kentuckians, Cussy rides a mule over treacherous terrain, delivering books and periodicals to people of limited means. Cussy’s patrons refer to her as “Bluet” or “Book Woman,” and she delights in bringing them books as well as messages, medicine, and advice. When a local pastor takes a nefarious interest in Cussy, claiming that God has sent him to rid society of her “blue demons,” efforts to defend herself leave Cussy at risk of arrest, or worse. The local doctor agrees to protect Cussy in exchange for her submission to medical testing. As Doc finds answers about Cussy’s condition, she begins to re-examine what it means to be a Blue and what life after a cure might look like. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Cussy begins traveling to the city for medical testing, the stakes get higher, as does the suspense of the story. Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a society’s members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky.

A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7152-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

more