An impressive debut featuring vivid prose and an unexpected but surprisingly effective sports motif.

FAR STONES

Woodson’s debut novel features twin brothers in mid-19th-century Missouri who abruptly get separated only to be reunited years later. 

In 1860 St. Louis, siblings Tom and Stefan Spiess come upon their first game of “base-ball” (as it was then spelled). Tom is soon hooked, and when the ball gets lost in the bushes, he finds and keeps it. Four years later, their family of free, mixed-race Creoles becomes fearful of roving Home Guards and other threats, so they make their way to the Hill Country of Texas. One day, when the boys are 11, Comanches raid their homestead, abduct Tom, and brutalize and kill their mother. A short while later, Stefan, in hiding, sees his stepfather murdered by a young man named Jason Strachey. Tom (who still had his baseball) was captured by a man named Blue Turtle, who will eventually adopt him as his son. Over the next decade, Tom will take two different wives and become a respected warrior and father. Meanwhile, Stefan is kidnapped and enslaved while trying to get back to San Antonio. After he’s eventually freed, he survives as a jack-of-all-trades with his prostitute friend, Jeanie Lalande; they live on the seamier side of life, doing what they need to do to survive. Stefan later gets back to Indian country and finds his brother, now named Far Stones for his deadly throwing accuracy. Throughout this novel, Woodson writes well, with a keen ear for the right turn of phrase (“…as if the night had been an unsteady horse that still threatened to lurch him off”). But the most intriguing aspect of the novel is its subtle baseball motif, which becomes a running theme throughout the text; Far Stones, for example, is known for keeping balls whenever he find them—including two hairballs, one from his future wife, one from a buffalo; similarly, Stefan pilfers a perfectly round furniture finial which becomes his own talisman. Even the story’s final reconciliation—a slow and painfully sensitive dance—is finally effected thanks to baseball.

An impressive debut featuring vivid prose and an unexpected but surprisingly effective sports motif.

Pub Date: June 13, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63505-293-0

Page Count: 326

Publisher: North Loop Books

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2017

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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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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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