Chaim Potok meets Leon Uris: a solid if overlong portrait of violence and renewal.

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THE MANDELA PLOT

Sophomore novel from South African writer Bonert (The Lion Seeker, 2013) exploring the turbulent closing years of the apartheid regime.

Martin Helger is a teenage mess. As one of the band of neighborhood kids who torments him says, “You don’t have any friends. You can’t do sports.…You don’t have really much personality, hey, I mean admit.” He’s different, a working-class Jew in a world of segregation and separation, and he’ll certainly never measure up to his brother, Marcus, who’s graduated from high school and has disappeared somewhere in the front lines of war, missing in action and likely dead. A spot of hope comes into his life in the form of an American whirlwind, “a serious beauty” named Annie Goldberg, who’s come to live with the Helgers while teaching African children in a township school. Annie smolders at the injustice of apartheid, and Martin falls under her spell even as the state security forces begin to clamp down on the anti-apartheid movement. It doesn’t take long before the violence begins to mount, and then, one by one, Martin’s friends and family begin to leave the stage, with only a very bad Afrikaaner cop to suggest a way out. Until, that is, Marcus returns; as it turns out, he has been an elite fighter all along and is now tangled up in a scheme meant to destroy the anti-apartheid cause once and for all. “Violence works,” he says. “S’why they cane you from the start.” Drawing on real events in recent South African history, Bonert unfolds a sometimes-crawling plot that threatens now and again to veer into Frederick Forsyth territory, though it’s embedded in an eminently literary character study that explores a Jewish community whose elders are deeply reluctant to take part in the struggle—“Our job as Jews is to take care of Jews!” shouts Martin’s father—but who, as always and everywhere, are swept up in the chaos.

Chaim Potok meets Leon Uris: a solid if overlong portrait of violence and renewal.

Pub Date: May 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-328-88618-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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