MONTFORT THE ANGEL WITH THE SWORD

1260 TO 1265

Ashe brings her expansive, intricately worked saga on Simon de Montfort to a tragic, juddering close.

His knees, ankles and shins may have been shattered by Henry III’s rack, but Simon’s spirit remains unbroken. Like moth to flame, he is drawn back to the political maelstrom in England. Henry, whom Ashe portrays with consummate skill—describing the “flaccid drapery” of his palsied face and his neurotic breakdown into a haggard, gray cadaver—has turned the barons against Simon but has been unable to quell the populace, who has risen in revolt. To Simon’s utter dismay, the cult of him as the angel of the Lord who will usher in a just new age has taken hold. He protests that he wants only to secure the Provisions of Oxford, not grab England’s crown, but no one believes him. The novel’s arresting central tension emerges from the increasingly poisonous face-off between Simon and Prince Edward, whose treachery and ruthlessness is matched only by his strapping beauty. When jeering Londoners empty their chamber pots onto Queen Eleanor’s head as she travels down the Thames, Edward swears revenge. Camp Simon is initially victorious at Lewes, but in the 1265 Battle of Evesham they are fatally outnumbered. As the archbishop prophesied, Simon and his eldest son are slain on the same day, with Simon’s body being brutally mutilated. Miraculously, from under his headless torso a spring begins to gush, validating the widespread belief that he was indeed a saint. Ashe’s belabored detailing of petty campaigns and aristocratic rivalries can get exhausting—and the detour that leads Simon to meet Robin Hood, while charming, is far too long—but the more worrying concern is the sentimental halo she bequeaths on Simon, one of the most contentious figures in English history. On the whole, however, her polished, taut prose and love of historic detail brings alive the ghosts of history in all their scheming angularity. A deeply sketched, thoroughly researched, wildly imagined labor of love that is hugely enjoyable.

 

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2011

ISBN: 978-1452844237

Page Count: 525

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2011

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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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