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Fans of romantic suspense with an art historical bent will appreciate the vigor of Albanese’s reimagining of the family saga...

Two haute bourgeois Austrian-Jewish women see their world upended by fin de siècle libertinism, the onset of the Nazi regime, and the theft of all they hold most dear.

Sparking off the same source material as the film Woman in Gold (2015), Albanese conjures the voices of Adele Bloch-Bauer and her niece Maria Altmann, whose lives overlapped briefly but whose biographies are forever conjoined by a work of art. Here, as in life, handsome, clever, and rich Adele is an intellectually famished, aspiring salon hostess whose tolerant husband, an uncultured but benevolent sugar-beet magnate, indulges her interest in the philosophical debates of the day (though the novel imposes no burden on readers to wrestle with them). She eventually persuades him to commission Gustav Klimt—monk-cloaked, lupine, and a notorious seducer with multiple illegitimate children—to do her portrait. It takes him three years to complete. While conscious of ugly talk rippling through the Ringstrasse—a failed and embittered applicant to Vienna's Art Academy, who will one day come to power in Germany, is glimpsed briefly at one of Adele's salon meetings—Adele is forced to pull back from their potentially scandalous relationship for reasons less social than private. By turns breathless and rueful at the memory of the erstwhile affair—“His gaze was intoxicating. I’m embarrassed to remember how little it took to keep me talking”—Adele will take up other causes and protégés. One is her young niece Maria, whose story commences in 1938 and makes for a gritty, suspenseful counterpoint (with a few historical liberties taken) to the lip-smacking linzer torte of Adele’s bildungsroman. Less worldly than her aunt (who was long dead by the time Hitler comes to power), Maria is shocked when the Gestapo turns up at her home to oversee the transfer of Jewish property into Aryan hands. But she quickly readjusts her inner compass, proving wily and doughty in ways Aunt Adele would approve. Taking the lead from her husband—an amateur opera singer hooked on female adoration—she organizes their escape, not a hot-second too soon. Though given shorter shrift here than the romance/suspense plots, Maria’s nervy and unprecedented campaign to seek restitution for her family’s looted art collection—including the shimmering Klimt portrait of Adele hidden in plain sight in Vienna’s most prestigious gallery—provides a satisfying coda: “The Nazis were inside my uncle's palais....If you’re lucky, life teaches you to survive.”

Fans of romantic suspense with an art historical bent will appreciate the vigor of Albanese’s reimagining of the family saga behind the masterpiece long regarded as Vienna’s Mona Lisa.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3198-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet...

Four Chicago sisters anchor a sharp, sly family story of feminine guile and guilt.

Newcomer Lombardo brews all seven deadly sins into a fun and brimming tale of an unapologetically bougie couple and their unruly daughters. In the opening scene, Liza Sorenson, daughter No. 3, flirts with a groomsman at her sister’s wedding. “There’s four of you?” he asked. “What’s that like?” Her retort: “It’s a vast hormonal hellscape. A marathon of instability and hair products.” Thus begins a story bristling with a particular kind of female intel. When Wendy, the oldest, sets her sights on a mate, she “made sure she left her mark throughout his house—soy milk in the fridge, box of tampons under the sink, surreptitious spritzes of her Bulgari musk on the sheets.” Turbulent Wendy is the novel’s best character, exuding a delectable bratty-ness. The parents—Marilyn, all pluck and busy optimism, and David, a genial family doctor—strike their offspring as impossibly happy. Lombardo levels this vision by interspersing chapters of the Sorenson parents’ early lean times with chapters about their daughters’ wobbly forays into adulthood. The central story unfurls over a single event-choked year, begun by Wendy, who unlatches a closed adoption and springs on her family the boy her stuffy married sister, Violet, gave away 15 years earlier. (The sisters improbably kept David and Marilyn clueless with a phony study-abroad scheme.) Into this churn, Lombardo adds cancer, infidelity, a heart attack, another unplanned pregnancy, a stillbirth, and an office crush for David. Meanwhile, youngest daughter Grace perpetrates a whopper, and “every day the lie was growing like mold, furring her judgment.” The writing here is silky, if occasionally overwrought. Still, the deft touches—a neighborhood fundraiser for a Little Free Library, a Twilight character as erotic touchstone—delight. The class calibrations are divine even as the utter apolitical whiteness of the Sorenson world becomes hard to fathom.

Characters flip between bottomless self-regard and pitiless self-loathing while, as late as the second-to-last chapter, yet another pleasurable tendril of sisterly malice uncurls.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54425-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Hunter’s debut novel tracks the experiences of her family members during the Holocaust.

Sol and Nechuma Kurc, wealthy, cultured Jews in Radom, Poland, are successful shop owners; they and their grown children live a comfortable lifestyle. But that lifestyle is no protection against the onslaught of the Holocaust, which eventually scatters the members of the Kurc family among several continents. Genek, the oldest son, is exiled with his wife to a Siberian gulag. Halina, youngest of all the children, works to protect her family alongside her resistance-fighter husband. Addy, middle child, a composer and engineer before the war breaks out, leaves Europe on one of the last passenger ships, ending up thousands of miles away. Then, too, there are Mila and Felicia, Jakob and Bella, each with their own share of struggles—pain endured, horrors witnessed. Hunter conducted extensive research after learning that her grandfather (Addy in the book) survived the Holocaust. The research shows: her novel is thorough and precise in its details. It’s less precise in its language, however, which frequently relies on cliché. “You’ll get only one shot at this,” Halina thinks, enacting a plan to save her husband. “Don’t botch it.” Later, Genek, confronting a routine bit of paperwork, must decide whether or not to hide his Jewishness. “That form is a deal breaker,” he tells himself. “It’s life and death.” And: “They are low, it seems, on good fortune. And something tells him they’ll need it.” Worse than these stale phrases, though, are the moments when Hunter’s writing is entirely inadequate for the subject matter at hand. Genek, describing the gulag, calls the nearest town “a total shitscape.” This is a low point for Hunter’s writing; elsewhere in the novel, it’s stronger. Still, the characters remain flat and unknowable, while the novel itself is predictable. At this point, more than half a century’s worth of fiction and film has been inspired by the Holocaust—a weighty and imposing tradition. Hunter, it seems, hasn’t been able to break free from her dependence on it.

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56308-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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