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IF I KNEW YOU WERE GOING TO BE THIS BEAUTIFUL, I NEVER WOULD HAVE LET YOU GO

Will Katie get her man? Will she make a break from this hard-luck population? The author’s masterful writing makes this...

A vivid portrayal of the disappointed young adults in Elephant Beach, a fading East Coast seaside town, in 1972. Beware the seductive lure of sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

The world-weary proprietor of a local hangout tells Katie, the 18-year-old narrator of this affecting debut short story collection, “You’re different than the other kids around here. You want my advice? Get out of Dodge. Now.” But in the summer after her high school graduation, there is some life lesson that Katie needs to learn from this on-the-skids town and her colorful, chain-smoking friends. Everyone around her is trying to escape the challenging circumstances that surround them in this working-class community. The women’s dreams are quickly crushed in evanescent sexual affairs, which end in abandonment, arguments, abortions or just male indifference; the men they get involved with are too troubled or immature or stoned to be dependable partners. The rest of the country, roiling from the Vietnam War, seems distant, as does nearby Manhattan. Katie’s friends are both contemptuous and jealous of the occasional hippie or privileged student who drifts by. Mitch, who lost a leg in Vietnam and is drinking himself to death, is the poster boy for those unable to withstand the vicissitudes of life. Katie, who comes from a more affluent family but works at an A&P, is obsessed with Luke, an elusive, recently returned vet; she is also grappling with her own adoption. What makes the desperation that abounds compelling is Chicurel’s perfect pitch for the characters’ patter, which is blunt, cynical, often profane and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.

Will Katie get her man? Will she make a break from this hard-luck population? The author’s masterful writing makes this short stay in Elephant Beach worthwhile.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2014

ISBN: 9780399167072

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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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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