An empathetic revisiting of horrific history rendered less conventional for a Holocaust novel by its unusual setting.

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EXILE MUSIC

Even after escaping the horrors of Nazi-occupied Austria, a creative young girl continues to be tested as she struggles to make a new life in Bolivia.

Orly Zingel, born in 1928 to musical Jewish parents living in Vienna, has grown up happy and comfortable. She has a best friend, a make-believe world, and a beloved extended family, but all these will quickly be lost to her in 1938, when the Germans take over Austria and swiftly begin persecuting its Jews. Her father, a viola player in the Vienna Philharmonic, loses his job, and her opera-singer mother will soon find it impossible to make music too; and then the family is forced from their home into a cramped, overcrowded apartment. Steil (The Ambassador’s Wife, 2013, etc.) traces this all-too-familiar descent a little too sweetly in the scene-setting opening chapters but then with mounting intensity as Orly’s innocence is replaced by loss, shame, and terror. Fortunately, and after much effort, the Zingels secure visas to leave Austria, but their destination, La Paz in Bolivia, presents an immense culture shock which only Orly seems able to embrace. Befriending locals, she begins to learn both Spanish and Indian languages and delights in the country’s music and myths. Steil traces the extreme challenges faced by the immigrants, both initially and after the war ends, with commitment but excessive length. As the extent of the Holocaust becomes known, the survivors must deal not only with their own losses, but also the sight of Nazis settling in Bolivia, too. Grief, vengeance, and elements of restoration wind through Orly’s coming to terms with the past and her future, an important and touching journey though one that is diffused by its indulgent pacing.

An empathetic revisiting of horrific history rendered less conventional for a Holocaust novel by its unusual setting.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-56181-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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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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