Leveen’s enthusiastic historical novel pushes the classic teenage romance aside to give greater weight to a mother’s love...

JULIET'S NURSE

A lusty, if lengthy, retelling of Romeo and Juliet from the nurse’s perspective.

With the largest number of lines in Shakespeare’s play after the two lovers, wet nurse Angelica takes center stage in Leveen’s (The Secrets of Mary Bowser, 2012) second novel, which begins 14 years before the fateful five days spanned by the drama. Angelica’s tale is one of poverty and sorrow tempered by a long and happy marriage. Her six sons were victims of the plague that periodically afflicted the Italian city of Verona in the 14th century, and as the novel opens, she is about to lose a seventh child, a daughter, born on Lammas Eve, the same day on which Lady Cappelletta gives birth to Juliet. Angelica’s husband, Pietro, with whom she has spent more than 30 devoted, sexually fulfilling years, accepts the assistance of Friar Lorenzo and steers Angelica away from her grief into the role of live-in wet nurse to Juliet. And the plan works: Angelica becomes wholly devoted to her new charge, forming a bond that begins to matter more than her marriage. Pietro’s subsequent death in one of the many violent incidents afflicting the unruly city only intensifies Angelica’s commitment to her young mistress. By the time Romeo puts in his first appearance, in the book’s final quarter, the stage is set for the inevitable events, although Leveen adds to the tension with a plot modification all her own. Lingering over Angelica’s emotional dilemmas and the political feuding, the author’s long-anticipated focus on the star-crossed lovers seems almost incidental when it arrives. After the tragedy unfolds, it’s left to Angelica to live on and mourn.

Leveen’s enthusiastic historical novel pushes the classic teenage romance aside to give greater weight to a mother’s love and losses.

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-5744-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Emily Bestler/Atria

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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