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ROOSEVELT'S BEAST

A suspense-filled re-imagining of history deepened by a confrontation with evil’s supernatural presence.

Bayard (The School of Night, 2011, etc.) draws dark fiction from the real-life Roosevelt-Rondon 1914 exploration of Brazil's Rio da Dúvida.

Bayard exactingly chronicles the hardships of charting the river, right down to the damp, dangers and drudgery of the Amazonian jungle, but it’s the physical and emotional trials of Kermit, Teddy Roosevelt's son, that drive the story. The 20-something Kermit has been sent along to protect his boisterous father from his own recklessness. Kermit worships his father, but he also feels a strange kinship to his wastrel uncle, Elliott, the family’s black sheep. Famous names and true-life exploration aside, Bayard’s novel captures a great adventure, with the expedition navigating in cumbersome dugout canoes, running short of food and fighting off malaria. Danger enough, but then Teddy wanders from camp while hunting for food. Kermit follows protectively, and the pair are captured by Cinta Larga, a tribe of cannibals. The tribe is being plagued by the "Beast," a thing that kills "beyond malevolence." If the Roosevelts kill the Beast, the tribe will set them free. Bayard describes tribal life realistically, employing a young female character, the bilingual Luz, a missionary group’s only survivor, to bridge cultural barriers. Teddy and Kermit kill the Beast, which seems to be a large howler monkey, but then Kermit glimpses "the look of boundless sorrow in the howler’s eyes and realizes an evil entity has leapt from the howler into a nearby human. Bayard’s heart-of-darkness saga is impressive—blood and sacrifice, primitive peoples and Roosevelt courage. Kermit’s powerfully drawn in the expedition, in his inextricable link to the Roosevelt name and in his sad decline in 1943 Alaska. Luz and the Cinta Larga are believable, as are Rondon and the exploration party. Teddy, however, seems one-dimensional, all Bull Moose–San Juan Hill, no matter how dire the circumstances, leavened only by his love for his son.

A suspense-filled re-imagining of history deepened by a confrontation with evil’s supernatural presence.

Pub Date: March 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9070-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2014

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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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