An adroit, sharply drawn portrayal of Dickens’ indelible characters.



Intrigue and betrayal infest the shadowy underworld of Dickensian London.

The tight-fisted Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghost of Jacob Marley come vividly to life in an assured reimagining of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol by novelist Clinch (Belzoni Dreams of Egypt, 2014, etc.), who brilliantly captures the wit and irony of Dickens’ prose as he unfurls a tale of greed, cruelty, and passion. Marley and Scrooge meet when Ebenezer is enrolled at Professor Drabb’s Academy for Boys, a wretched place where boys, virtually abandoned by their families, teach and discipline one another, cook paltry meals, and cower under Drabb’s abuse. The boys, all of them, have secrets: “Secrets are their refuge and their currency and their stock in trade.” Secrets, Marley learns early, can be powerful. Although the same age as Ebenezer, he is duplicitous and wily and soon snares the newcomer into his debt. Later, Marley takes advantage of Ebenezer’s innate timidity to make him the silent, acquiescent partner in devious enterprises. Clinch’s Scrooge is not a heartless miser but rather an “automatic counting machine” who is happiest—“if he is happy anywhere”—at his desk. He “does the ciphering and is himself something of a cipher.” Marley, a chameleon, a snake, a sly money launderer, has created a panoply of “useful, flexible, and profitable” identities and set up a host of fictitious businesses that deal in liquor, cloth, furs, and “the hides of enslaved men.” Scrooge cares nothing about Marley’s importing companies, only about keeping ledgers. But the smooth surface of Scrooge’s life becomes roiled by two women close to him: his sister Fan and her friend Belle. Fan comes to hate Marley, a man, she says, who believes “the earth itself exists only to be bought and sold.” Belle, who excites in Scrooge something like love, insists that the partnership divest itself of the slaving business. Scrooge’s efforts to win Belle and thwart Marley’s unsavory enterprises lead him into “the thicket of Marley’s deceit” and, ultimately, a final confrontation between two bitter adversaries.

An adroit, sharply drawn portrayal of Dickens’ indelible characters.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-2970-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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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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