MONTFORT

THE REVOLUTIONARY 1253 TO 1260

In this riveting third volume of Ashe’s historical fiction, Simon de Montfort returns to England where he becomes embroiled in revolution against the king.

The deep but ultimately doomed filial love between Simon and Edward, heir to the throne—and, in Ashe’s telling, Simon’s illegitimate son—is poignantly developed. When the beautiful but vicious Edward orders an acolyte to prove his loyalty by gouging out the eyes of a peasant child, the whole kingdom is appalled. But Simon goes to Edward’s aid, admonishes him and then forgives him. England is now completely bankrupt, but Henry egregiously sets out on a Grand Progress through France, accompanied by an entourage swagged with gold and ivory. Ashe’s detailing of the procession is not only a forensic paean to foppery but a schadenfreuden build-up to a bonfire of vanities. Henry feels like a cheap Christmas tree when he is met by King Louis of France, dressed in drab penitential robes with a tiny cross as the only embroidery. Despite their sartorial differences, a personal chemistry kindles between the two monarchs, but Simon, caught between a changeling Henry and an insecure Louis, continues to be a nowhere man. It’s in France that he hears the second prophecy of parliament from an old Dominican monk, that in the New Age “our leaders will be chosen as monks choose their abbots. By election.” As famine and injustice ravage England and Henry foolishly pledges the Crown to the Pope so that he can have Sicily for his hunchback son Edmund, the barons finally revolt with Simon at the helm. Henry is defanged, the Magna Carta re-fanged and the Provisions of Oxford established. But unlike the idealistic Simon, the barons don’t want their unlettered tenants to be empowered. The poor still love St. Simon, but the barons now loathe him. He is arrested and sent to the Tower. As in the last two volumes, Ashe lards her tale with some informed guesswork and some wild speculation. The ghastly torture scene in the Tower with Henry III vomiting at the savagery is perfervid fantasy, but it works because it’s grafted onto a factual skeleton. An expertly told tale in which the star role is played by democracy, a poisoned chalice to be won only at the cost of treason.

 

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2011

ISBN: 978-1452844473

Page Count: 454

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 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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