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ESCAPE FROM KONIGSBERG

A realistic rendering of a horrific period in German history.

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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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A LITTLE LIFE

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

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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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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