A bit of a stretch—could Kleopatra have been this wise and wonderful?—but an agreeably intelligent and lively read...

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KLEOPATRA

The Kleopatra loved by Mark Anthony and others is given a stature—and a minor change to her name to underline her Greek lineage—in a richly textured if sometimes strained debut.

A descendant of Ptolemy I, and a member of the same Greek family as Alexander the Great, Kleopatra is not a beauty—refreshingly, Essex emphasizes her learning, knowledge of many languages, and understanding of history and politics rather than her looks. The story opens as three-year old Kleopatra, her father’s joy, watches her mother die. Within days, her half-sister Thea seduces father, King Auletes, marries him, and becomes Queen. Thereafter, as Kleopatra grows into a young woman, she must contend as much with disloyalty inside her family as outside. And the times are turbulent: Rome, under the triumvirate of Julius Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey, is expanding, and threatens Egyptian sovereignty; the native Egyptians are restless, resenting the King’s extravagance and the heavy taxes they must pay him; and abortive uprisings are common. The king, in turn, a weak and self-indulgent man, relies on Roman money to pay his soldiers and keep creditors at bay. Kleopatra fears for her father’s continued rule as her elder sister, Berenike, plots to be queen and go to war with Rome. But the preternaturally perspicacious young Kleopatra, understanding that a relationship with Rome is the family’s only hope, encourages her father to visit that city with her, where she meets and befriends the powerful. She becomes Queen when Auletes dies and, heeding custom, marries younger brother Ptolemy XIII, a weak boy whose advisers want her dead. She flees Egypt, but, with the help of her loyal counselors and her own wits, defeats her enemies. At 21 and back in Alexandria, she is ready to fall in love with Julius Caesar, now in Egypt with his army.

A bit of a stretch—could Kleopatra have been this wise and wonderful?—but an agreeably intelligent and lively read nonetheless.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2001

ISBN: 0-446-52740-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2001

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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.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

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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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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