THAT DEADMAN DANCE

British settlers and native Aborigines tussle over whales, disease and each other’s rights in mid-19th-century Australia.

The hero of the third novel by the Australian Scott (True Country, 1993, etc.) is Bobby Wabalanginy, a young Aborigine. His intelligence and youthful pliability make him an attractive ally to the increasing numbers of British settlers in the 1830s who are looking to establish whaling ports on Australia's southwest coast. But the alliance is uneasy: Each group suffers from a lack of immunity to the other’s illnesses, and racism is strong, particularly on the British side. Bobby bridges a few gaps by learning English, helping settlers out of scrapes and serving as a sort of right-hand-man to Dr. Cross, one of the colony’s first leaders. Inevitably, though, the detente doesn’t last: Once the kindly Dr. Cross dies, power struggles ensue among a new governor and the Aborigine tribal elders. Grimly enough, Scott's writing is at it best when there’s bloodshed: He crafts deft, exciting scenes about the visceral chaos of whaling, and a set piece in which Bobby witnesses the murder of black slaves shows how readily casual racism shifts into violence. But the book feels ungainly overall, suffering from a scruffy, episodic style that often sets particular plot changes in motion but gives them little dramatic weight. The point of view shifts often, and when the focus is Bobby, the chapters gain an even more distancing mythological sheen, making him more a symbol for the unsteadiness of British-Aborigine relations than a character in his own right. (Some scenes that place Bobby with the young daughter of the settlement's governor set up a provocative flirtation, but little is done with it.) The novel’s closing anti-rhetoric is honorable but familiar. A few powerful scenes, but despite its research a mostly uninspiring trip to what promised to be a more dramatic era.

 

Pub Date: March 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-60819-705-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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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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