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An intermittently chaotic novel which manages to snatch poignancy from the jaws of cliché.

A South Korean interpreter recalls her war-torn love life while on tour with Marilyn Monroe.

Lee, a screenwriter, has structured her short novel almost like an avant-garde film: The present action frames several flashbacks as the story follows an emotional, not a linear, arc. In 1954, the Korean War has ended and American forces occupy the South. For four morale-boosting days, Marilyn Monroe (the new Mrs. DiMaggio) is scheduled to visit Seoul and entertain the troops. First-person narrator Alice J. Kim (her nom de guerre), a translator and clerk on an American base, is tapped to serve as the star’s interpreter. From here it is rough chronological sailing; readers are advised to cling to the date headings of each chapter as flotation devices. A talented artist born to wealth, Alice (real name Ae-sun) refused an opportunity to escape. When Northern forces seized Seoul, she survived for a time by drawing propaganda posters for the enemy but eventually endured bombardment, then captivity in a Northern POW camp. Torn between Yo Min-hwan, a married lover, and Joseph Pines, an American agent, she alienated both, and her clumsy revenge had unintended, dire consequences. She seeks redemption by searching for Chong-nim, an orphaned girl she had helped during the evacuation of Hungnam. She is also contemplating suicide for reasons it takes the entire novel to establish. Acknowledging that the Korean War is still “The Forgotten War,” Lee, in this able translation by Kim, depicts several horrific episodes: neighborhoods in flames, hordes of refugees trying to escape the Communist invasion on overcrowded American ships, piles of corpses with those still living trapped beneath. The gritty truth is too often undermined by the banal love triangle, and Kim is perhaps overly fond of pronouncements like “A woman’s beauty is powerful enough to change her fate, though it becomes useless as she grows old.” The Marilyn frame story does pose revealing parallels between two outwardly privileged ingénues with inner scars.

An intermittently chaotic novel which manages to snatch poignancy from the jaws of cliché.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-293026-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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