A vividly written and stark chronicle of Nazism and its legacies.

WUNDERLAND

A daughter strives to unlock the secrets of her mother’s past, which her mother has ample reason to hide, in Epstein’s (The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, 2013, etc.) third novel.

Three women carry the narrative weight of this searing novel, set in pre– and post–World War II Berlin and New York City in the 1970s and '80s. Now that she's a mother herself, Ava, a struggling artist in the East Village, is determined to confront her own mother, Ilse, who left her in an orphanage in the waning days of the war, eventually retrieving her but never telling her the identity of her father or much about her own past. Ilse’s sections, set in the '30s during the years leading up to Kristallnacht, make it abundantly clear why. Ilse joins the Hitler Youth female division, the Bund Deutscher Mädel, and becomes an enthusiastic Nazi, to the horror of her former best friend, Renate. As the noose slowly tightens around Berlin’s Jews, Renate and her family are not immediately affected by the oppressive racial laws, since she and brother Franz are Mischlings, only half Jewish; her mother, a psychiatrist, is “Aryan” and her father considers himself a Lutheran until the Nazi registration system exposes his Jewish ancestry. The stories of Ilse and Renate are viscerally quotidian in detailing how Nazism distorts their adolescence. Renate’s gradual ostracism by her school—formerly a top student, she is subjected to racism-dictated grade deflation—and even by those she counted as friends, is excruciating to read. The characterization of Ilse is more challenging, but her enthusiastic embrace of the lifestyle of a Hitler devotee is authentically depicted, as is her dogged refusal to be disillusioned despite various rude awakenings to the role envisioned for women in the Reich. Representing the German postwar generation, Ava holds her own here and is not merely an afterthought; her relationship with Ulrich, son of an Auschwitz victim, is particularly poignant and echoes the friendship of Ilse and Renate, which neither ever truly renounces, at least psychically.

A vividly written and stark chronicle of Nazism and its legacies.

Pub Date: April 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-57690-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

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
  • 17

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?

more