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THE WINEMAKER'S WIFE

A somewhat entertaining but mostly predictable story; Champagne fans and readers who can’t get enough WWII fiction will...

Harmel (The Room on Rue Amélie, 2018, etc.) returns with another historical novel set in France during World War II.

This novel alternates between 1940 at the Chauveau Champagne winery near Reims as the German occupation begins and the present day in the same area, where recently divorced Liv Kent’s 99-year-old grandmother, Edith, has brought her so that Edith can attend to some “business.” Gradually Liv begins to understand they are in Reims so she can learn what happened in 1940 that changed the futures of her grandparents, their friends, and the Chauveau winery. She discerns this in part from the new man in her life, Julien, grandson and partner of Edith’s longtime lawyer. Harmel weaves in real historical figures such as Otto Klaebisch, the “weinführer” in Champagne during the war, and Count Robert-Jean de Vogüé, Resistance leader and head of Moët & Chandon. The story of fictional Resistance member and Champagne proprietor Michel Chauveau may be realistic, but parts of the story about his young wife, Inès, are less convincing. The Chauveaus employ winemaker Theo Laurent, whose wife Céline’s family is Jewish. While Inès’ naïve insistence that Céline’s family is far from danger is somewhat understandable—many people were unable to believe what was happening at the time—it doesn’t square with her recollection of her WWI veteran father insisting “You can never trust the Huns!” Inès’ vacillating sympathies might reflect her youth, but they set up a chain of events that leads to dramatic changes in her life, which in turn set up the dramatic unveiling of Edith’s secrets in the modern section of the book. All of which requires suspension of disbelief. Liv’s love interest, while sudden, is somewhat more believable, as is Edith’s reluctance to tell Liv the family history. Even in those sections, Harmel resorts to formulaic moments, such as a mix-up about whether Julien is married and a scene where a character is welcomed to heaven with forgiving words from other characters.

A somewhat entertaining but mostly predictable story; Champagne fans and readers who can’t get enough WWII fiction will probably still enjoy it.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1229-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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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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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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