A challenging but politically and morally astute take on the emotional impact of war.

RONDO

The accidental leader of a Polish dissident group recalls his experiences in love and battle during World War II.

In the novel, first published in 1982, prize-winning Polish author Brandys (1916–2000) argues that relationships, particularly in times of political resistance, are always shot through with confusion and ambiguity. In the days before WWII, the narrator, Tom, is a Warsaw law student enchanted by Tola, an actress. Though she’s already committed to a lover, the two eventually strike up a sexual relationship of their own, and in his urge to get closer to Tola, Tom pursues some acting work. As the Nazis occupy Poland, he goes one fateful step further: To keep Tola from becoming embroiled in the real resistance, he invites her to join a resistance group he invented called Rondo (a name pulled from a Chopin piece). Through a series of miscommunications, the fake organization becomes real enough: Tom begins performing legitimate work feeding information to British intelligence forces, leading to more romantic byways, confused identities and, as the war draws to a bloody close, a body count. The novel's opening pages seem to suggest a comedy of errors, or at least an unreliable narrator: The narrative is structured as a letter to the editor, written by Tom in frustration with a newsmagazine article’s numerous inaccuracies about Rondo. But Tom’s outrage, constant digressions and shifts in time are designed more to expose dry ironies than get laughs. Brandys regularly underscores the connection between the theater in which Tom and Tola work and the “political theater” in which they participate, giving short shrift to their actual relationship, which eventually feels more like an excuse for the occasional mini-essay about the nature of political dissent. Brandys is deeply concerned about the ways politics and love tend to shape our identities, dourly concluding that both have a way of making us feel isolated. There’s no questioning the intelligence he brings to make that point, though his dense, digressive prose may test readers’ patience.

A challenging but politically and morally astute take on the emotional impact of war.

Pub Date: April 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-60945-004-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Europa Editions

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 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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A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

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THE BOOK WOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK

One of Kentucky’s last living “Blue People” works as a traveling librarian in 1930s Appalachia.

Cussy Mary Carter is a 19-year-old from Troublesome Creek, Kentucky. She was born with a rare genetic condition, and her skin has always been tinged an allover deep blue. Cussy lives with her widowed father, a coal miner who relentlessly attempts to marry her off. Unfortunately, with blue skin and questionable genetics, Cussy is a tough sell. Cussy would rather keep her job as a pack-horse librarian than keep house for a husband anyway. As part of the new governmental program aimed at bringing reading material to isolated rural Kentuckians, Cussy rides a mule over treacherous terrain, delivering books and periodicals to people of limited means. Cussy’s patrons refer to her as “Bluet” or “Book Woman,” and she delights in bringing them books as well as messages, medicine, and advice. When a local pastor takes a nefarious interest in Cussy, claiming that God has sent him to rid society of her “blue demons,” efforts to defend herself leave Cussy at risk of arrest, or worse. The local doctor agrees to protect Cussy in exchange for her submission to medical testing. As Doc finds answers about Cussy’s condition, she begins to re-examine what it means to be a Blue and what life after a cure might look like. Although the novel gets off to a slow start, once Cussy begins traveling to the city for medical testing, the stakes get higher, as does the suspense of the story. Cussy's first-person narrative voice is engaging, laced with a thick Kentucky accent and colloquialisms of Depression-era Appalachia. Through the bigotry and discrimination Cussy suffers as a result of her skin color, the author artfully depicts the insidious behavior that can result when a society’s members feel threatened by things they don't understand. With a focus on the personal joy and broadened horizons that can result from access to reading material, this well-researched tale serves as a solid history lesson on 1930s Kentucky.

A unique story about Appalachia and the healing power of the written word.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4926-7152-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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