Those who remember the ’60s, at least from one side of the culture wars, will like this yarn.

TRUE BELIEVERS

A deliberately paced look back at the tumultuous 1960s, that era of free love, beads and bombs.

Karen Hollander, 64 years old and counting, has been working very hard for the last four decades, immersed in social issues and legal battles. Now, having withdrawn her candidacy for the U.S. Supreme Court, she’s embarked upon writing a memoir that’s bound to upset more than one apple cart. Step one, the reader being tougher at vetting than any Senate committee, she needs to establish her credentials: “I am a reliable narrator. Unusually reliable. Trust me.” Any survivor of the ’60s will tell you that anyone who begs to be trusted is probably a narc, but not Karen, who is “old enough to forgo the self-protective fibs and lies but still young enough to get the memoir nailed down before the memories begin disintegrating.” It would spoil Studio 360 host Andersen’s (Turn of the Century, 1999, etc.) fun to give too much away, but suffice it to say that Karen is about to tell some tales out of school that involve intelligence agencies, plots to kill prominent politicians and other hijinks that definitively do not befit peace-and-love types. Naturally, there are people from the time who do not wish her to reveal such things, and so the plot thickens—as indeed it must, given Karen’s lifelong love of James Bond. (“The world must be crawling with make-believe secret agents,” she thinks.) Andersen’s tone is smart and sometimes rueful: “During high school,” he has Karen recall, “we never discussed and weren’t even quite aware of the straddle we were attempting, studying hard and participating in extracurriculars even while we reimagined ourselves as existential renegades driven by contempt for conventional ambition and hypocrisy.” The grown-up attitude suits the novel, which lacks the exuberance of Andersen’s Heyday (2007), a tale of the revolutionary year of 1848. Neither is it reserved, though. About its only flaw is its title, which, absent the plural marker, already belongs to a 1989 film about, yes, a ’60s survivor and lawyer battling for truth and justice, all a little too close for comfort.

Those who remember the ’60s, at least from one side of the culture wars, will like this yarn.

Pub Date: July 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6720-6

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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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