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BEAUTIFUL REVOLUTIONARY

Weighty and disquieting.

A young, idealistic couple is torn apart as they are entangled in the Peoples Temple cult.

Just out of college and early in their marriage, Evelyn and Lenny Lynden move to Evergreen Valley, California, so Lenny can fulfill his conscientious objector service in a state mental hospital. Lenny is soon exhausted by his work and regularly comes home with energy only to get high. Evelyn tries to devote herself to homemaking, but the loneliness wears on her. Evelyn suggests the two go to church, where she is immediately taken in by the imposing, charismatic figure of Jim Jones. Evelyn and Lenny become deeply ingrained in the Peoples Temple, and Evelyn begins an affair with Jones—who has a wife and children—and soon divorces Lenny. Evelyn (who was inspired by a woman named Carolyn Moore) eventually has a son with Jones, and Lenny marries another member. Evelyn’s isolation is clear, but any understanding of her motivations is deeply obscure. Woollett’s novel, which is heavily researched, traverses the uneasy terrain between historical fiction and all that cannot be known about the inner lives of real people. History blends with mythology, creating a dizzying effect in which a reader, too, will be searching for something to ground them. In an effort to explore multiple perspectives, Woollett (The Love of a Bad Man, 2017, etc.) begins to focus on a tumult of other characters, with Lenny and Evelyn receding from the center; the story is at times difficult to follow. Woollett explores how Jones could have been so captivating and manipulative (with a heavy focus on his lies, sexual manipulations, and abuses of his followers), but the Temple's purported focus on socialism and race relations isn't as clear. In the end, a reader feels the characters hurtling toward doom after the cult moves to Guyana. Perhaps one of the story’s most devastating takeaways is that two characters who started out deeply committed to pacifism and the imagining of a better world ultimately failed to imagine any actions other than fear, violence, and death.

Weighty and disquieting.

Pub Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-947534-63-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Scribe

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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