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MR. TIMOTHY

Still, a clever premise and smartly detailed prose manage to offset the disappointment of this tale’s forced excitement.

Tiny Tim has grown up in this uneven effort: an intriguing reexamination of Dickens’s beloved waif, saddled with a not altogether successful thriller, à la The Alienist.

It’s nearing Christmas in 1860s London and Tim Cratchit, now in his 20s, is reconsidering his life, irrevocably altered by that fateful, famous Christmas Day so many years ago. After his conversion to goodness, Ebenezer Scrooge took on the Cratchit family as his personal penance, particularly the angelic Tiny Tim. Tim was sent to doctors to fix his legs, tutored to fix his mind, and, by 20, he’s a right little gentleman, though with few prospects and even less money (in an amusing turn, Scrooge, who’s given most of his money away in philanthropy, now devotes his time to his collection of fungi). Strapped for cash, Tim takes a job as tutor in exchange for room and board, but his pupil is a middle-aged madame and his new home a brothel. Bayard’s success is in questioning the original narrative of The Christmas Carol: it seems Tiny Tim never uttered all the selfless prattle attributed to him, it was father Bob Cratchit who fed the lines, trying to make something extraordinary out of his crippled boy. Into this father-son drama (though Bob is dead, Tim sees his ghost everywhere) comes the plot of a child slave-ring. Tim stumbles on a secret society with royal connections, though this society imports ten-year-old girls, brands them with Lord Griffyn’s sign, and then offers them to upper-class pedophiles. With the help of young Colin, a street urchin who would have done Fagin proud, Tim tries to rescue Philomela, an Italian girl who has already once escaped the clutches of Lord Griffyn. Like Dickens, Bayard exposes the poverty and casual exploitation of children in that most self-serious of eras, and if he’s a bit more explicit, well, this is the 21st century after all. Bayard is less successful in turning this clever literary novel into a bait-and-chase thriller—the climactic rescue comprises a full third of the narrative—and it is mighty hard work keeping the chase lively for so long.

Still, a clever premise and smartly detailed prose manage to offset the disappointment of this tale’s forced excitement.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-053421-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2003

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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