A realistic rendering of a horrific period in German history.

ESCAPE FROM KONIGSBERG

At the end of World War II, a German teenager escapes the Red Army and seeks to reunite his family in this historical novel. 

In the final year of World War II, 17-year-old Walter Heinrich’s life in Konigsberg is increasingly imperiled. Germany is certain to lose the war, and the Red Army is rapidly advancing from the east, leaving a trail of destruction behind its relentless march. Adolf, Walter’s father, who was conscripted into the German army and then disappeared, is now presumed dead. Then, Carl Forsythe, a British pilot, is downed nearby and seeks refuge in the Heinrich household, which Walter’s mother, Lena, eventually provides. Carl and Lena develop romantic feelings for each other—a connection born out of fear and despair beautifully depicted by Tosoff (Point of Return, 2018, etc.). Walter discovers their relationship and is enraged by her act of disloyalty, especially when he learns Adolf is actually alive and being held in a French work camp for prisoners of war. Carl finally sets out on his own, but not before his presence is reported by a meddling neighbor; when a German soldier comes to inspect the Heinrich home, Lena is brutally raped and murdered by him. Walter flees with his two sisters—6-year-old Mila and 10-year-old Brigitte—to Berlin, where his paternal aunt lives, but the three of them are intercepted by German authorities and sent to an orphanage. The author memorably portrays Walter’s relentlessness—he escapes the orphanage and sets off for France in order to find his father and, despite finding love in a small French town near Luxembourg, refuses to surrender his quest.  Tosoff’s research is admirably meticulous—his mastery of the geopolitical currents of the day, including the details of European geography, is indisputable. He captures the impossible predicament of so many Germans at the time—loyal to their native land but also left at the mercy of an insanely criminal regime. Walter experiences the moral degradation of his own people, made mean by their abuse, but he also understands their loss of esteem before the world: “Everywhere Walter went there were stories about beatings and even random murders perpetrated against innocent people just because of their Germanic ancestry. He wanted to get out from under the stigma foisted upon him and his countrymen because of Hitler’s evil deeds.” Tosoff’s prose is lucid and crisp—the entire novel is narrated in the third-person—but lacks any poetical quality. It reads like a combination of personal anecdotes and professional history, as if the author is unsure of which to assume and unable to seamlessly combine the two. The power of the story is its quiet lack of sentimentality—Tosoff unflinchingly describes the darkest depravities without either bowdlerizing the grim details or laboriously trying to shock readers. The moral record, so to speak, is read out loud without maudlin embellishment, and readers are trusted to understand its meaning or devise their own. One could argue that descriptive restraint is itself a species of poetical accomplishment. 

A realistic rendering of a horrific period in German history. 

Pub Date: May 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-985067-00-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 9, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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