Where the classic Radetsky March could woo any reader with its breadth, insight and humor, this novel offers a sentimental...


Sympathy for characters vies with purplish prose and blaring symbols in this reimagining of Napoleon’s brief resurgence after his first exile.

Roth (Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters, 2012, etc.) focuses on the period (actually 111 days) between Napoleon’s triumphant return to Paris from banishment on Elba and his defeat at Waterloo, imagining a great man moving toward his downfall. In this slim historical novel, the author dwells on the Corsican’s solitude, ambitions and shifting emotions in two sections, while two others concern a palace laundress named Angelina, also Corsican, who is infatuated with the emperor and whose aunt tells fortunes for the great man. Napoleon has an encounter with the washerwoman that leads to an almost-tryst, as well as two brushes with her son, a drummer boy in the army. The second of these, on his final battlefield, is, like many of the book’s stronger scenes, damp with bathos. Angelina briefly interrupts her adoration of the man, “so great that everything in the world was his,” to dally with the “world of sabres, spurs, boots and woven braid” in the person of “the magnificent Sergeant-Major Sosthene,” a comic giant and the drummer boy’s dad. She will also find refuge during the Elba days in the bed of a kind Polish cobbler with a wooden leg. Aside from reviewing his troops, studying his maps and visiting his mom, Napoleon does little until his coach ride to Belgium and flight to the Atlantic and his last jailers, the British. Roth dwells at length on his solitude and his consciousness of time running short. Ticking clocks and trickling sand in “an hourglass of polished beryl” are less than subtle reminders of “his enemy, Time.”

Where the classic Radetsky March could woo any reader with its breadth, insight and humor, this novel offers a sentimental miniaturist painting soppy little scenes that maybe only a Roth completist will appreciate.

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2278-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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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. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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