Magical realism of the best kind, utterly devoid of whimsy.


The story of a bleak, isolated Irish island where everyone believes in, and justifiably fears, fairies.

St. Brigid, a saint often conflated with a druid goddess of the same name, chose the remote (and fictitious) isle that bears her name as a haven for her order of nuns. In 1960, a prologue reveals, St. Brigid’s, which lacks electricity, telephone, or any other modern convenience, is about to be evacuated, its inhabitants—women, children, and one elderly man—resettled in council housing on the mainland. The main plot begins a year earlier, when a “Yank” named Brigid arrives to claim her late uncle’s cottage and land. Brigid plans to stay despite the fact that the islanders still live as their ancestors have for centuries: fishing, farming, heating and cooking with peat fires. The first to welcome Brigid are Emer and her young son, Niall. Emer, who, as a child, tried to consort with fairies and lost an eye as a result, needs a friend: her pervasive aura of gloom has alienated all but her closest kin. Brigid inherited her gift of healing hands from her mother, who was, like Emer, reputed to be “touched” by fairies. Back stories swirl, heightening the stakes: Brigid, who has been an orphan, a midwife, and a child bride, is now nearly 40, infertile, and desperate to be a mother. She hopes to locate the spring of St. Brigid, which is said to work miracles—but the islanders keep the location of these waters a secret. Emer’s sister Rose married Austin, the man Emer loved, and has a large brood, while Emer had to settle for Austin’s brother Patch, a loutish drunk. Her biggest fear is that the fairies covet Niall and, as is their wont with certain children, plan to steal him when he turns 7 and leave a changeling in his place. Vividly and soulfully described, love and curses, roiling in a supernatural stew, bring about the large and small calamities that will render St. Brigid’s uninhabitable.

Magical realism of the best kind, utterly devoid of whimsy.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-249218-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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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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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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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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