Although the pace is fast and frenetic, the characters are little more than polemic place-markers, and the language is...

SHADOW OF THE SWORDS

TV writer turned novelist Pasha offers this miniseries-ready recapitulation of the Third Crusade.

Saladin, a charismatic sultan of humble Kurdish origins, succeeds in the nearly impossible task of driving out the Christian Franks from Jerusalem, where they have ruled for decades after conquering the city with their trademark ferocious barbarity. Saladin manages to beat the Christians back to a small coastal encampment, where he keeps them contained. Back in England, young king Richard the Lionheart vows to retake Jerusalem for the Cross and for his own self-aggrandizement. Richard, a ruthless warrior still battling rumors that he is homosexual, is a virulent anti-Semite and shows no compunction about slaughtering women and children in the course of his campaigns. Maimonides, rabbi, physician and renowned author of religious and philosophical treatises, serves as Saladin’s doctor and most trusted confidant. Maimonides’ niece Miriam has been his ward ever since she narrowly escaped death at the hands of brutal Frankish marquis Conrad, who, years before, brutally raped and killed her mother before her eyes. Conrad is now the leader of the small group of Christians encamped on the coast—once Richard helps him retake Jerusalem, he expects to rule that city. Lovely, green-eyed and erudite, Miriam captivates Saladin, and the infatuation is mutual. After their affair is exposed, Miriam, on her way to sanctuary in Egypt, is captured by the Franks. Stung by Richard’s contempt, Conrad defects to Saladin. Maimonides is alarmed when he recognizes, in Conrad’s possession, an amulet which belonged to Rachel, Miriam’s mother. Realizing that Conrad murdered Rachel, Maimonides hatches a plot to kill the marquis and implicate Richard in his death. Meanwhile, Miriam unwillingly becomes Richard’s mistress in order to spy for the Saracens. Ultimately the love that both Richard and Saladin have for Miriam will force them into an unlikely decision about the fate of Jerusalem.

Although the pace is fast and frenetic, the characters are little more than polemic place-markers, and the language is jarringly clichéd and anachronistic.

Pub Date: June 22, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4165-7995-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Washington Square/Pocket

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2010

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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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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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