Storms, war, explosions, sex, science, tragedy, and deep affection. Worth every minute.


The laying of the first transatlantic cable offers second-novelist Griesemer (No One Thinks of Greenland, 2001) the framework for a very 19th-century take on the birth pangs of modern times.

Successfully slathering on layers of Dickens and DeLillo, Griesemer goes for the big canvas in a fact-filled and consistently entertaining depiction of the messy, expensive, and dangerous labors needed to connect the new world and the old by means of telegraph wire. The cast includes investors, engineers, artistes, an illustrator, poseurs, visionaries, a whore, mesmerists, servants, the Lincolns, and sailors. The scene shifts between a London stewing in a sewage crisis and a young USA ready to erupt in civil rebellion. Chester Ludlow is the brilliant American engineer at the center of it all. Unfairly handsome, charismatic, and absolutely devoted to the success of the largely British project, he is the unhappy husband of former actress Franny, who pines for the three-year-old daughter Betty, who fell to her death in an epileptic fit. Bullied by a rich American investor into taking the lead in a magic lantern fundraising tour, Ludlow is thrown into harness with the show’s director, Joachim Lindt, and his beautiful wife Katerina. While the show is raising thousands of pounds and Katerina and Ludlow are raising each other’s temperatures in London, Franny is at home in Maine with Ludlow’s brother Otis trying to raise Betty’s spirit from beyond. The heated affair with Frau Lindt never distracts Ludlow from the Great Work, but problems do abound. A surgeon with electrical theories has seduced Atlantic Cable’s directors into unsound science, and there’s never as much money as there should be. On the edge of the action, artist Jack Trace takes in the events and turns them into newspaper gold with his quick and stunning sketches of everything from the ghastly launch of the Great Eastern, the ship that will prove indispensable, to the spectacular end of the doomsday weapon Ludlow forges for the Yankees.

Storms, war, explosions, sex, science, tragedy, and deep affection. Worth every minute.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-312-30082-4

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2003

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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 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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