A complex coming-of-age story that evokes the enduring effects of war and the latter days of the Jim Crow system.


Hemingway, Three Angels, and Me

From the The Pompey Hollow Book Club series

A boy learns important lessons about prejudice, racism, and courage in post-World War II America in a fictional tale that combines autobiographical elements and the supernatural.

The fourth book in Antil’s (Mary Crane, 2015, etc.) Pompey Hollow Book Club series finds Jerry in 1953, 13 years old and finally settled into the rural community of Delphi Falls, where his family moved four years earlier. Jerry’s father, Big Mike, who owns the town bakery, is disturbed by the ugly signs of prejudice he sees in his upstate New York town. He’s especially worried when Jerry, his brother, Dick, and their mother travel to segregated Little Rock, Arkansas, to help Jerry’s aunt Mary with the birth of her baby. Although WWII ended eight years earlier, it looms large in the narrative, just as it does in the lives of the children who grew up during the early 1940s and the adults still feeling the war’s repercussions. In Little Rock, Jerry learns of numerous injustices, large and small, that arise from racial prejudice, from separate water fountains to discrimination in the military. His guardian angel, Charlie, who first appeared in the second volume of the series, The Book of Charlie (2013), calls Jerry into action to help Anna Kristina, a pregnant African-American girl who’s in danger from the prominent white man who raped her. With the aid of Charlie, two other angels, and a host of other supporters, including Jerry’s war hero uncle and the author Ernest Hemingway, Jerry strives to rescue Anna Kristina and even has a thrilling ride in a B-25 bomber. Antil covers important thematic ground in a narrative in which cooperation and understanding counter segregation, and most of the white characters are as deeply concerned about racism as the characters of color are. As this version of “Papa” Hemingway says, “Racism isn’t about color, Jerry, it’s about…not wanting to know about or care about other cultures.” Some of the book’s explanations are simplistic, and there are occasional anachronisms (such as when a Little Rock churchgoer refers to the rapist who fathered Anna Kristina’s child as a “baby daddy”). But overall, there’s much positive food for thought here, couched in an engaging adventure tale.

A complex coming-of-age story that evokes the enduring effects of war and the latter days of the Jim Crow system.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9971802-0-6

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Little York Books

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2016

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.


In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...


Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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