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TRINITY

Lushly written, this is an ambitious, unsettling novel that takes on big issues in a passionate, personal way.

Seven fictional characters tell the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the A-bomb, reflecting on his complicated legacy as they talk about their own lives, which intersect with his.

Much has been written about Oppie, as friends called him, the renowned physicist hailed as a hero for his work on the bomb, then pilloried for his left-wing views and Communist Party connections during the McCarthy era. (After JFK was elected in 1960, Oppenheimer’s reputation was rehabilitated.) But in this boldly imagined, multilayered novel, author Hall (Speak, 2015, etc.) takes a new approach. Through her invented narrators, she explores themes of guilt and betrayal as well as the fallout from lies and self-delusion—in the process bringing Oppenheimer, an often aloof, conflicted man, to vivid life. Among those offering “testimonials” as she calls them: Sam Casal, a military intelligence operative, who one evening in 1943 tails the married Oppenheimer from the Rad Lab in Berkeley, California, to the San Francisco apartment of his (real-life) former lover, Jean Tatlock. Then there’s Grace Goodman, a young WAC assigned in 1945 to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the A-bomb was built and tested under Oppie’s supervision. Only the last story, narrated by Helen Childs, a journalist who comes to interview the disillusioned and fatally ill scientist in 1966, goes on too long and strains to make the necessary connection with the man himself. Oppenheimer chose the code name “Trinity” (a reference, apparently, to a John Donne poem Jean Tatlock introduced him to) for the A-bomb test that preceded the historic August 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the beginning of each chapter, as a framing device, the author provides a glimpse of Oppenheimer at work in Los Alamos in the tense hours and minutes leading up to the test.

Lushly written, this is an ambitious, unsettling novel that takes on big issues in a passionate, personal way.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-285196-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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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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