Doughty is a competent narrator, but her characters are dwarfed by the terrible times through which they move.

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FIRES IN THE DARK

A Holocaust novel featuring the Gypsies of Central Europe.

Gypsies are dirty parasites. That stereotype is swiftly demolished by British author Doughty (An English Murder, 2000, etc.) as she introduces us to a small group of Kalderash Roma in Czechoslovakia. These nomadic Gypsies, who live in their wagons, are industrious, self-supporting, and squeaky clean (they even have domestic purity laws). Formerly coppersmiths, they pick fruit in summer and make barrel hoops in winter. Their Big Man is the tenderhearted Josef, whose beautiful wife Anna has just given birth to a boy (Emil). It’s 1927; only the hated gadje (white non-Roma) stain their idyllic existence; whether they are Czech or German makes no difference. Their rules and regulations culminate in 1942 with Registration Day, a ruse to round up all Gypsies and intern them. The heart of the novel is their experience in the Czech camp. As they drop like flies, what is initially harrowing quickly becomes numbing. Josef sickens and enters the no-exit infirmary. Emil’s life is made hell by a sadistic Czech guard. The iron-willed Anna is the natural protagonist, but her gender bars her from center stage, so the 15-year-old Emil becomes the designated survivor, a heavy burden for young shoulders. Anna commands him to escape. Free of the camp, he kills an old peasant for his clothes and travels to Prague, where he’s sheltered by Ctibor, his father’s old friend and (surprise) a decent gadjo. When he returns to rescue the rest of his family, he finds the camp deserted: they have all been shipped to Auschwitz. Emil’s primal howl of grief would have provided an appropriately bleak ending, but Doughty sends Emil back to Prague so he can reunite with Marie, another young Gypsy survivor of the camp. Their contrived reunion is just one element of a chaotic scene, as the German occupiers flee and the partisans hound them through the streets.

Doughty is a competent narrator, but her characters are dwarfed by the terrible times through which they move.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2004

ISBN: 0-06-057122-5

Page Count: 496

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2003

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged White mom and her Black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a Black boy hoping to go with a White girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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