Sweeping in scope, with vividly drawn, rich characters, Keenum’s debut signals a writer to watch.

READ REVIEW

WHERE THE LIGHT FALLS

Sent home from Vassar in disgrace, Jeanette Palmer is a romantic—after all, she did help her friend elope—and a gifted painter. But how can she cultivate her talents in Circleville, Ohio?

Set in late-19th-century belle epoque, when the arts flourished and the horrors of World War I had not yet occurred, Keenum’s debut novel is based upon her own great-grandmother’s life. Appalled at her disgrace, Jeanette’s parents send meek Cousin Effie to fetch her home. As she nervously awaits her parents’ arrival, Jeanette endures Aunt Maude’s interrogation, which beautiful, stylish, married Cousin Adeline knows is just a front for gossiping. To calm her nerves, Jeanette sketches Effie’s face, which so delights Effie that she arranges for Jeanette to sketch Maude—an effort to demonstrate her real skill to her family. The ploy works, and soon Jeanette, chaperoned by Effie, finds herself en route to Paris to study art. Meanwhile, back in Cincinnati, pharmacist Edward Murer struggles with the twin demons of Civil War memories and a laudanum addiction. After years of barely engaging with the world, Edward begins slipping deeper into depression, to the alarm of his family. His brother Theodore lights on a scheme: send Edward to Europe as a chaperone for his son Carl’s grand tour. (Perhaps there, Carl will be supervising Edward’s return to life.) A dinner party brings Jeanette and Edward together, as Carl accidentally reveals Jeanette’s scandalous past. As the weeks pass, Jeanette delights in her studies, navigates the dangerous waters of licentious men and finds herself drawn to the wounded pharmacist. For his part, Edward’s demons have pursued him across the sea, yet each encounter with Jeanette shines a little more light into his soul.

Sweeping in scope, with vividly drawn, rich characters, Keenum’s debut signals a writer to watch.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-425-25778-4

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

more