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HARVEST

Crace continues to occupy a singular place in contemporary literature.

Rarely does language so plainspoken and elemental tell a story so richly open to interpretation on so many different levels.

Is this a religious allegory? An apocalyptic fable? A mystery? A meditation on the human condition? With economy and grace, the award-winning Crace (The Pesthouse, 2007, etc.) gives his work a simplicity and symmetry that belie the disturbances beneath the consciousness of its narrator. It’s a narrative without specifics of time or place, in the countryside of the author’s native England, following a harvest that will prove different than any the villagers have ever experienced, in a locale where, explains the narrator, “We do not even have a title for the village. It is just The Village. And it’s surrounded by The Land.” In the beginning, the narrator speaks for the community, “bounded by common ditches and collective hopes,” yet one where “[t]heir suspicion of anyone who was not born within these boundaries is unwavering.” The “they” proves crucial, as the narrator who initially speaks for the collective “we” reveals that he is in fact an outsider, brought to the village 12 years earlier by the man who is the master of the manor, and that he is someone who has become a part of the community, yet remains apart from it. There has been a fire following the harvest, disrupting the seasonal cycle, and although evidence points to three young men within the community, blame falls on two men and a woman who have recently camped on the outskirts. There is also someone making charts of the land and an issue of succession of ownership. There is a sense that this harvest may be the last one for these people, that the land may be converted to different use. “[P]lowing is our sacrament, our solemn oath, the way we grace and consecrate our land,” yet that way of life may soon be over. “There isn’t one of us—no, them—who’s safe,” declares the narrator, who must ultimately come to terms with the depths of his solitude.

Crace continues to occupy a singular place in contemporary literature.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-385-52077-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2012

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THE NIGHTINGALE

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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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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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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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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